Our local newspaper, the Boulder Daily Camera, has announced a new policy. No longer will obituaries be considered news. They've been turned over to the classifieds and will be written by friends or relatives of the deceased and placed by funeral homes. Bottom line: deaths are now an opportunity for revenue enhancement.
I'd always taken it for granted that keeping track of who's born, who's married, and especially who dies constitutes a considerable part of the mission of a local paper. Such events are bread-and-butter matters -- part of the soul of the community.
The Daily Camera is certainly not where we find out what's happening in the big world -- it's woefully inadequate in that regard, although it does pick up and truncate a few pieces off the wire. The Camera's sole reason for being is that it covers local news, and by doing so allows Boulder's citizens to feel that they have something in common.
But in fact the Camera only masquerades as a local paper. It's a holding of the folksy-titled Prairie Mountain Publishing, which is a joint venture of E. W. Scripps Co., the newspaper conglomerate, and the MediaNews Group (MediaNews itself owns the Denver Post and four other Colorado papers; Prairie Mountain also owns the Colorado Daily). There's nothing local about the Camera and there's no reason for its absentee owners to care two cents worth who lives or dies in Newlands or South Boulder or Wonderland Hills. The Camera's job is to extract as much money as possible from Boulder and to forward the cash to Prairie Mountain Publishing.
The Prairie Mountain overlords have placed a new publisher, Al Manzi, at the Camera; Manzi is a corporate lifer. I'm reliably informed that he came with specific instructions to up the Camera's profits.
And so, obituaries are now on a pay-to-play basis.
How is it that there have been absolutely no complaints about the new policy? Boulder is a contentious, argumentative city. It would be reasonable to expect that the Camera's letters-to-the-editor columns would be saturated with protest, but there's been nary a word. Why? Because Manzi has instructed the editorial staff not to publish any letters that protest the new policy.
It's good to be the publisher.
Whether or not disagreements with the publisher's edicts will be permitted in the classifieds has not, to the best of my knowledge, been tested.
Here are some proposals for Al Manzi. Why stop with obituaries? Or with wedding and anniversary announcements, which are obviously fair game. Letters to the editor: why not? Why should a newspaper give free space to community opinion. Let those who can pay, pay. And editorials. Why should there be editorials when there can be advertorials?
Here's a phrase to remember: "revenue center."
In today's paper, there's an announcement that the Camera's editor, Sue Deans, who has local roots, has resigned. Could it be that her departure is related to Manzi's policy changes? Would anyone be astonished to discover so?