David Ryan served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. When he died earlier this month, at age 69, his family in Penn Hills, Penn., wanted to pay for an obituary to memorialize him. But the local paper wouldn’t run the piece without one change to how the family had described his wartime experience.
One of Ryan’s daughters, Heather Vargo, said she paid $400 for the obituary to run for two days in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Because the Vietnam War received a lot of criticism both in Ryan’s time and recently, Ryan simply wanted his obituary to read “not a murderer, not a baby killer, just a Vietnam Vet,” Vargo says.
The paper wouldn’t allow that language in the obituary. “They didn’t give a reason. They just said we cannot print this.”
Another local paper, The Penn Hills Progress (affiliated with the Tribune-Review, the chief rival of the Post-Gazette) decided to run with the obituary exactly as the family wanted. “I feel like he’s being disrespected and I think that light needs to be shed on that fact,” said Vargo.
Many newspapers and sites these days treat obituaries like classified ads. While they still cover some deaths as news stories, they allow readers to buy space for obituaries that don’t get covered by their reporters. And as with ads, papers and web sites reserve the right to edit out language or passages that they deem to be offensive.