The day several years ago when The Joplin Globe decided to stop running complete obituaries unless people paid for them has continued to damage the newspaper's reputation ever since. Of course, it was not a local decision. As is usually the case, it was a corporate edict. People were dying and it was high time Ottaway Newspapers made money off it. The policy remains in effect now, even though the Globe now is owned by Community Newspaper Holdings.
The only people who now receive complete obituaries in The Globe are those who pay for them. That means that if you are poor, your life and death mean absolutely nothing except one paragraph with just your name, age, and address, as far as The Joplin Globe is concerned.
I was reminded once more of the folly of that policy when I saw the brief listing of the death of Vernie Browning in one of last week's papers. Vernie Browning would never have been in line for a long story in the Globe, but to the people who grew up in or lived in Newtonia during the 1960s and 1970s, he was a part of our everyday life. During that time, he ran the Newtonia Post Office and helped Carroll and Ruth Gum in operating Gum Mercantile, more commonly known as Gum's Store.
None of that information was included in the Globe because his family did not pay for it, and you certainly cannot blame anyone for that.
When I was a newspaper editor (that phrase that many of you are so tired of hearing), my philosophy was simple: When you work at a daily newspaper, you try to make it as much like a weekly as possible, and when you work at a weekly newspaper, you try to make it as much like a daily as possible.
In other words, a daily newspaper should do the things that daily newspapers do, but they should also provide information with a small-town feel to it to try to build a sense of community. That includes coverage of things other than government and sports. At The Carthage Press, we prided ourselves in our coverage of the arts, led by Ron Graber, and in our schools coverage. When I was at the Lamar Democrat, a twice-weekly, we worked hard on providing solid, breaking news whenever possible and the kind of investigative reporting that was normally left to the daily newspapers.
The Globe has tried a little of this with its patronizing coverage of county fairs and community social activities. Most times they are assigned to the newspaper's newest or least gifted reporters, who then treat the stories as if they are beneath them. Their contempt for the people they are covering, even if they don't realize it, is coming through loud and clear.
If the Globe truly wants to reach the people and bring a community feel to the newspaper, the best way would be to sacrifice a few dollars (in the short run) by bringing back full obituaries. Study after study has shown that the obituaries rank at or near the top in readership. Make an investment in them and it will be repaid by an increase in readership.
The Globe has done a remarkable job in recent months in living up to its watchdog role with its coverage of the incident in which two Joplin Police officers detained and handcuffed an 11-year-old boy; as well as in its stories on the proposed downtown renovations, the hockey team proposal, and the infamous meltdown of Sen. Gary Nodler. If it really wants to cement its position in the community, it will take this step, and reassure the readership that every member of the community is important, not just the ones whose families can buy coverage in the newspapers when they die.