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From the Listerver: Obituaries in Association Publications - 1/5/2010 -

Your colleagues discuss their practices for publishing member obituaries in the association's publications.

Q. We are getting more and more requests to run members' obituaries in our mainstream member magazine—both from members and staff. Due to a strict page count and lack of room, we simply don't have the space to run these any longer.Even if we limited it to only those who have served at the top levels of the board and have received awards of distinction, we would have too many to publish. When I have said we're not going to run them any longer, I've had staff from other departments try to do an end-run and go straight to the CEO before involving me. I would like to create a policy that we don't publish obituaries in the magazine. Do any of you have a firm, written editorial policy about not publishing obituaries in your association publications?

A. We publish "In Memoriam” items only for past presidents, and it's limited to one page in the journal. Other deaths are listed annually as part of the Council Proceedings.

Linda T. Hemphill, director of publications, International & American Associations for Dental Research

A. We simply publish a list of names of deceased members in an 'In Memoriam' item in our newsletter. No additional information is printed, unless it is a past president, for which we merely indicate that status. This takes up only a couple of inches of space.

We are a small organization (6,000 members) in a closely knit profession, and I think our readers appreciate being informed of their colleagues' passing.

Marsha Pedersen, director of marketing and communication, American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons

A. Our trade magazine (not a journal) doesn't run obituaries. We do post death notices online on our Member News page under the header 'Condolences,' along with news of retirements, promotions, awards, achievements, and lists of new members. A link to the Member News page runs in every issue of our weekly e-mail newsletter. The notices are short, maybe three to four sentences—not homage to the deceased or full-length obituaries.

While some Member News items are reprinted in our magazine, we decided a while back that death notices were too timely to run in a bimonthly publication. All our members have access to the Member News page if they're truly interested in keeping up with people.

We don't give special treatment to past presidents or former board members, and we don't run notices on members' relatives. I suppose if a board member died while in office, we'd probably run something in both our weekly newsletter and magazine, but that would be the only circumstance meriting extra attention.

Cindy Ruckman, director of publications, National Association of College Stores

A. Our publications staff has successfully blocked efforts to create a special obituary section for a number of years. Try posing this question to other staff (but in particular, your CEO): What kind of message does it send to your members if your publication is full of obituaries? Are we (you) trying to project an image of a dying organization—or one that is vibrant and growing? Do you want the publication to look like a graveyard, or one full of useful and interesting information?

That said, we do allow mention within individual columns and for VIPs with national name recognition in small articles in the news section of our flagship publication, usually a half page or less. We try to concentrate on their contributions to the organization.

Rob Kurek, director of publications, Academy of Model Aeronautics


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