Public editor

When should a ‘news obituary’ be written?

Updated: 2014-02-12T23:56:24Z

By Derek Donovan

The Kansas City Star

“What is The Star's policy for obituaries about prominent people of the metro area?” asked a reader this morning.

“When R. Crosby Kemper passed five weeks ago, there was extensive coverage. When Kansas City's iconic Board of Trade closed last summer, again there were repeated articles and extensive coverage. Five weeks after Mr. Kemper' death, one of the most prominent figures in KC's regional grain dealings has passed and he rates only a pedestrian (everyday) obituary.”

The obituary he’s referring to is one that ran in today’s death notices for Paul D. Bartlett, Jr. of Bartlett and Co. These are written by families and funeral homes and run exactly as they’re submitted. They’re completely different from news obituaries, which are written by Star staffers or freelancers.

The question of when to assign a reporter to write a news obituary is purely subjective, and a lot of factors are involved. The person’s prominence in the community and what other news happens to be going on at the time are probably the main criteria. There’s no specific one-size-fits-all policy.

The Star used to run a daily news obituary of a private member of the community under the name “Tributes.” I know many readers enjoyed those, but I can also tell you that I heard from many critics of them as well. Those people felt the “Tributes” suggested that some people were more important than others.

To reach Derek Donovan, call 816-234-4487 weekday mornings or send email to Follow him at

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