Reason #247 Why You Should Pay For The NYTimes: To Keep Its Dead Obituary Writers Employed

from the wait,-what? dept

The big news of the day appears to be the death of actress Elizabeth Taylor. All the big news orgs are running obituaries, of course. And, as is typical with major celebrities, most of those news orgs had stock obituaries written long ago, which they pulled out, added a few final details, and posted. Of course, that leads to some odd situations, such as with the NY Times obituary for Ms. Taylor, in which it is noted that the author of the obituary actually died himself, nearly six years ago. While, again, lots of news orgs have pre-written obits, there does seem to be something a bit “off” in a newspaper claiming that it needs you to pay up to support its quality journalists… when it’s using work done by someone who died years ago.

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Comments on “Reason #247 Why You Should Pay For The NYTimes: To Keep Its Dead Obituary Writers Employed”

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Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

How many people have actually read the official obituary, versus the people who read the free articles and posts about her death on the Internet in general? And how many people just read about it via a friend’s status message on Facebook and never read any further at all? Do we need to create a micro-payment system for these enterprising Facebook ‘reporters’ as well? 😛

kyle clements (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I never understood the whole ‘after death’ thing they introduced into copyright

The argument I use is that if copyright lasted for the duration of the artists life, and their work went into the public domain the day the artist died, unscrupulous people people could get content for free by taking out the artist.
“That’s a nice movie you’ve got there, but don’t be asking too much for it, it’d be a shame if something happened to you…”

A better way (in my opinion) would be having copyright based entirely on the date of first publication. “Publication + 20 years” or so seems reasonable. Life + 50 or Life + 70 makes absolutely no sense.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I totally agree (and have made the same argument in the past.)

I don’t like copyright in general, but if we’re going to have it it should require registration (i.e., you have to give at least a token shit that your stuff is all that) and a short finite term (so the next generation doesn’t have to worry that the author of a hundred year old book may have died ‘only’ a few decades ago.)

kyle clements (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Eventually no one will be able to create anything due to all useful combinations of expression being previously copyrighted.

I’ve actually talked to several programmers about writing some software that generates midi files of every possible melody, just so we can hold all future musicians hostage. Using copyright to stop all musical progress for the next 100+ years!

(once you limit yourself the popular scales and tempos, and phrases of a reasonable length, that ‘almost infinite’ number actually becomes fairly manageable.)

ConceptJunkie (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Why not?

Is there a part of Copyright Law that specifies how a work must be created?

How do you define “creatively” vs. “algorithmically”? How can you draw the line? There were algorithmic schemes for creating music a hundred years ago.

Are you telling me if someone wrote code to create a cool piece of music that he would not be allowed to copyright it?

Believe it or not, this is already being done, and while the results might not be considered groundbreaking, it’s only a matter of time until machine-generated melodies will be mistaken for ones written by a human composer.

If someone who creates this software publishes the sheet music to one of its creations, he deserves no copyright protection?

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I’ve actually talked to several programmers about writing some software that generates midi files of every possible melody, just so we can hold all future musicians hostage. Using copyright to stop all musical progress for the next 100+ years!

Been done already (for the set of melodies that can correspond to phone numbers on a particular phone).
I can’t find the link at present (It might be somewhere on “Freedom to tinker”)

Ron Rezendes (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Publication + 20 years is absolutely perfect in my opinion as well!

IIRC, there was a recent study or a link to such, that indicated 90+% of revenue is made during the first 10 years after release/publication. I think 20 years is plenty of time for content creators to get paid for their work before it enters the public domain, keeping in mind that they can still make money off of the work even once it has entered PD.

Paddy Duke (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

With the rate of content production constantly increasing, most content older than 5 years is probably worse off locked down under copyright.

The authors would almost certainly be better served by freely disseminating old content in order to promote their new stuff/live performances/other value propositions.

I think some other stuff, like live recordings of sporting events, should have even more limited copyright terms, but that is more of a personal wish that I should be able to access and watch past events that will never be broadcast again.

wallow-T says:

The Techdirt piece here is Not Fair!! It’s standard practice at major news organizations to keep pre-written obituaries for public figures on file — even the young ones, because you can never tell when a car crash will claim a young star’s life. I bet there are Miley Cyrus obituaries on file, just in case.

If anything, I think it’s fascinating that the main part of the obituary was written by someone dead for several years. This makes sense, because due to her advanced age and health issues, Mrs. Taylor was mostly out of the public eye and not scoring new accomplishments in her final years.

Jeff says:


You really undermine your credibility when you post things like this. Use some common sense — this is content the NYT paid someone to write years ago, and paid someone to edit and update to make sure it was still appropriate today. The author being deceased has no bearing on the work or its value.

Stick to the substance, and not this snark.

FuzzyDuck says:

Re: Guys...

Agreed, this article misses any serious point.

Besides that it costs money to run a newspaper is true and unrelated to the paywall question, neither is there anything wrong for the NYT trying to make money.

The question for the NYT is if the paywall will earn them more money than the absence of a paywall.

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Probably a union thing...

“Should an employee or employees die before mandatory retirement age, their salary will continue for seven (7) years or discovery by observant readers. Dues will continue to be collected at this time and the remainder of the check(s) will be deposited into the current sports pool (varies according to season).”

Anonymous Coward says:

Why don’t you focus on how good journalism can be made economically more attractive than the alternatives (taking shortcuts, aggregating but not reporting) rather than taking pot shots at the NYT all day?

If the NYT, who actually probably cares about the quality of it’s reporting even if it doesn’t live up to its own standards) finds it exonomically more advantageous to cut corners, what does that say for journalism as a whole?

I mean, if the market is allowed to decide the quality of journalism we get, we’re screwed. So can we just admit this and stop trying to act like good journalism is an economically-viable proposition?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The NYT says “doing good journalism has value and people should pay us so we can continue to employ good journalists.”

The two NYT-related articles today seem to be saying “pfft, your argument doesn’t hold water. Your journalists and your entire organization take shortcuts that everybody else takes. Why should we pay you?”

I think the NYT’s heart is in the right place, even if it does fail often and take too many shortcuts. Sadly for them, I have yet to see any proposed business model where not taking shortcuts is more profitable than taking them.

The additional profits you get from the cost savings of taking journalistic shortcuts are centralized and immediate. The costs are distributed among the whole society, delayed, and hard to quantify.

Hugh Mann (profile) says:

I"m sure they paid him while he was alive

I’m not sure why you think the time lag between writing and publishing is relevant. I suspect the writer drew a NYT paycheck when he wrote the bulk of Ms. Taylor’s obit. If the NYT paid him when he wrote it, why should the NYT be subject to criticism for charging when they finally run the piece merely because the original writer is now deceased?

Didn’t the “Girl Who Payed With Fire” books get written by a guy who croaked pretty much right after he sent the manuscripts off to be published? Should the publisher be criticized for charging for those books because the writer, as a dead man, is no longer a “quality [author]”?

I’m really not sure how you think this advances your arguments about the NYT at all.


Anonymous Coward says:

Oh boy, talk about a tempest in a teapot.

Mike, do you realize that most major news organizations have a “storehouse” of obituaries already made or “almost completed” for pretty much every major star and public figure? On slow days (when nobody important dies) the obit writers work on filling in the background on various VIPs on the list, getting them ready to go.

This would be doubly true for someone like Taylor, who was a significant star, and also had suffered great medical problems in the last couple of years. I am sure that most major organization had her obit in the can already, waiting to push the button and have it run.

I think you are working way to hard to pick nits on the NYT. I think it just proves you are hating on them, which makes many of your other comments about them now seem a little suspect. (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“I think you are working way to hard to pick nits on the NYT. I think it just proves you are hating on them, which makes many of your other comments about them now seem a little suspect.”

Actually it doesn’t cause his economic reasoning still stands as opposed to the “guilt” the NYT expects people to experience to pay them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I know you mentioned it, and what I can’t understand is that it’s like you typed it, but ignored it.

Come on Mike. A quality journalist doesn’t mean “one that lives longer than the story they print”. Do you think this guy did a poorer job because after he finished it, he too died? Do you not think it fair (and perhaps even is a bit of a tribute from his fellow workers) that his name was on the obit, as he wrote pretty much all of it except the date of death and the cause?

I just think that you are so desperate to slag the NYT, that you don’t really care. I suspect that the real issue here is that you fear that their “paywall” model might actually work, and leave you with egg on your face. I cannot think of another reason why you have suddenly gone all stalkerish on them.

Anonymous Coward says:

On an almost completely unrelated note.

I work for a auction house and when I came to work yesterday I was met with an Andy Warhol print of Elizabeth Taylor in pieces on the floor.

At the time we all blamed the guys who put the print up and joked, how as an auctioneer, you’d think we would know how to hang artwork. It wasn’t until yesterday afternoon we heard Elizabeth Taylor had passed away and the print seems to have spontaneously jumped off the wall around the time of her passing.

Coincidence? Probably, but still a cool story.

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