Saturday, February 14, 2009

Making Me Feel Better

We're raising the prices on our obits here at the paper I work for. It had been ten years since we'd done something like this, so I know it's about time. Nevertheless, it made me uncomfortable. I don't like the idea of profiting from others' misfortunes. Still, a few things have made feel better about the idea:

According to my manager (to whom I expressed my pinko-commie concerns), because of estate planning or life insurance policies, most people are better off at the time of their deaths than at any other time.

We're an independent paper. Sure we're a corporation. But we're not part of a corporate conglomerate. A local family and many of the employees own shares in our stock. However, we're also struggling as a result of the poor economy and the information shift to the internet and free media. Raising the prices on our obits (and charging for some other announcements we'd previously offered at no cost) will provide us with instant (even if not hugely significant) profit that will hopefully alleviate a little of the discomfort we're having.

Also, by being an independent paper, we're still able to raise our prices without charging as much as some of the bigger, conglomerate owned papers in the region. So printing an obituary in our paper still won't cost nearly as much as it does at most comparable papers.

It's the second and third one that have my gears turning, as well as this article from TIME magazine (and some stuff I've been learning about how our international finance system influences our ability to create wealth, but that's for another post). What I'm coming to realize is that until we develop a better compensation system, we're going to have to learn to prioritize and be willing to pay a little more for the things that are important to us (i.e. keeping papers, grocers, builders, producers etc. local) on the bet that doing this will eventually make these things cost us less in the long run.

I'm far from living up to this standard in every aspect of my life. Finances are always tight in my neck of the woods, but certainly not as tight as some. But since I've been on my own and have been allowed to prioritize my money my way, I've realized that if I'm careful, I'm able to buy things that make me feel responsible environmentally/socially without breaking my budget. Do they cost me a little more? Yes. But I'm fortunate enough for now to be able to handle it and willing to make what small sacrifices (and in my case they have been small) I have to do this.

Anyway, back to our paper. I have my gripes about my workplace. I think everyone does.
Is it a business? Absolutely. Is it's goal to make a profit? Absolutely. But one thing I'm glad of is that we're still independent. The paper claims to and really does care about the community it serves. It functions in and depends on this community. So while I'm hesitant to charge more for what I feel should be a public service (in spite of my gripes about obits in general), I also feel that if our community values us as much as we're still able to value them ("we" being the paper, in this case) then hopefully they'll be willing to pay a little extra for our services knowing that we're still trying to treat them better than other places would.


darlene said...

When we start living our lives and making even small choices in a socially conscious way, we tend to find more meaning and satisfaction.

It's likely that your change in prices will affect very few people's ultimate decision of whether they want to have a published obituary, or not.

I wish you peace, and hope for you to find some inner ways to feel better.

G said...

this has been much on my mind too (what I pay for).
great post.

(sorry, I have no insightful thing to add... but I want to see what others will say, and I wanted you to know I thought this was a great post.)

Chandelle said...

I definitely have that question about the stuff I buy. It's so important to me that when I must buy something, it's socially and environmentally safe. It's hard to even know what to buy in the first place, and then to afford it. I've griped about shoes on my blog, for example - the necessity of wearing secondhand leather shoes if that particular vegan happens to be dirt-poor. Compromise is the name of the game in this, as in everything.

For me, I've totally come to believe that you get what you pay for, and if something is very cheap, we should ask ourselves why. Most often the answer will be that the raping of people, animals and/or the earth made that product so cheap. Also, cheap makes cheap - a cheaply priced product will break down as cheap in a short period of time, so over time you will spend more money.

So now I focus on the triangle of reduce-reuse-recycle, the first two being vastly more important than the third. I buy less, and I buy carefully. I buy things that will last, that cost more money because the workers were paid fairly. I happily spend more money on cast iron pans because they can last generations, whereas I was buying pots and pans every year to that point. By buying well, we can ultimately buy less. Buying less is gentler on the earth and the people and animals who produce our shit. Simple enough. :)

But it's not really simple because other issues come into play. There's no bottom line perfection on anything. I'll pay for a fair-trade product before I'll buy locally, for example. I'll buy fair-trade before I'll buy organic, but when it comes to food, I'll buy locally before I buy organic, too. For other things, however, I'll buy a sustainable product that is produced far away before I'll buy shit made in my hometown. It's always a balancing act.

Personally, I am sincerely concerned about the co-opting of environmentalism by capitalists. Everything I just said above is about buying, buying, buying. The emphasis today is buying green, maybe not so much on just living clean. Capitalism is gutting the environmental movement. But that might just be my cynicism talking.

Grégoire said...

I always enjoy finding blogs like this. I don't know how I stumbled in here but I'm glad I did.

I have an old state ID card which lists an Idaho Falls storage unit as the address. I moved to Calgary in 1993 (from Los Angeles & Salt Lake City) and didn't want to declare all my stuff when I "returned" to Canada. When I first stopped there it was just a place on I-15/HWY-4 which was moderately close.

I rapidly fell in love with the newspaper. I had a nose for decent journalism in my early 20s and was surprised at the quality of writing and photography. The Post-Register was far and away the best paper I had *ever* seen for a town of that size. Every time I came back (which was often - it took me a lot of trunkloads of smuggled stuff to "move") I picked up a copy.

Anyway, pleased to meet you.

Gregoire (born a Mormon, practicing atheist, like you...)