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Online obituaries are changing the way we publicly remember the dead and how newspapers cover deaths
Date:6/16/2009

aid makes it unlikely to read comments about a person that aren't a glowing -- and perhaps more accurate -- account of their character. At the same time, comments aren't edited for accuracy in the way a newspaper report would be.

"If I were a newspaper, I'd also be concerned that outside companies like this are making money providing the kind of public access people want," Bressers said. "Newspapers have long been the holders of public memory, remembering people and reflecting the values of the time. At one time, for example, an examination of newspaper obituaries would make it look like women and African-Americans didn't die. We see online obituaries opening up the possibility that more people won't be forgotten."

Bressers said that she and Hume also see how online obituaries are bringing mourners together in a way that would have been impossible before. Friends and family who wouldn't have been able to attend a funeral to sign a physical guest book can send their condolences from anywhere they have an Internet connection. The researchers found comments from friends and family members sharing stories -- often humorous ones -- that painted a clearer picture of what the deceased person was really like.

Bressers said they were struck by the remarkable connections not just between people who have died and their childhood friends and co-workers, but also between complete strangers. If the deceased was a veteran, strangers express gratitude for that person having served the country. Strangers who shared a medical condition with the deceased convey empathy with the family.

The messages that are perhaps more specific to online mourning are those speaking to the dead themselves. Hume and Bressers found such guestbook comments often make a request of the deceased, such as 'Say hi to Mom.'"

Although comments can be left anonymously, mourners can leave an e-mail address with the "contact me" button, allowing the grieving to connect
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Contact: Bonnie Bressers
bressers@k-state.edu
785-532-3956
Kansas State University
Source:Eurekalert

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