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Panpa Bulletin : July 2006
12 | PANPA BULLETIN July 2006 CONTENT In thousands of memory box- es and photo albums around Australia are yellowed and faded newspaper clippings of births, marriages and deaths. Announcements broadcast by proud or grieving families have re- mained a treasured memento of life through the generations. But with a declining birth rate, an escalating divorce rate and an age- ing population are these detailed accounts of our lives still as funda- mental to a newspaper as they were in the past? Personal notices have always been an integral component of any newspaper, from the smallest com- munity weekly to the large metro- politan dailies. And even with the advent of new media and technologies like email and all they entail, it seems these age-old traditions are still part and parcel of any and every newspaper. "They are certainly one of the most popular parts of our paper," said Paul Armstrong, editor of The West Australian newspaper. "There is no two ways about it - especially the death notices. There is actually more interest in those who are leaving than those who are arriving." The West Australian is WA's larg- est newspaper with a readership on Saturday of more than one million. Even in this burgeoning and in- creasingly metropolitan city, Arm- strong said the need to stay in touch with the community is as impor- tant as if the paper were catering for a much smaller population. "Those types of community no- tices are very popular among the 50+ age group, which is probably the strongest reading demograph- ic," he said. "The births, marriages and death notices are a crucial part of our pa- per. "In fact, I would say for every paper, no matter how big or small, there still has to have some com- munity element, and how much depends on the size of the paper. "People who live in this State sill want to know what is happening around them and the deaths and births notices are just one element of that. "It may be morbid, but people have an interest in what other peo- ple are doing and they like to read the death notices so they can, firstly, not be embarrassed if they come across a family member and sec- ondly, so they can send their con- dolences or attend a funeral. "These notices are simply anoth- er means of telling the community what is happening. "It is one reason why people buy the paper." The West Australian still runs weekly wedding pictures, birth no- tices, and obituaries as well as pub- licising anniversary events. "I don't have the statistics of how these figures might compare his- torically but I know if we stopped running any of it there would be an outcry," he said. The Toowoomba Chronicle in Queensland is one of the larger regional dailies in that State and like The West Australian has weekly wedding, birth and obituary sections. The six-day-a-week paper caters for a population of 120,000 inToow- oomba as well as servicing outlying villages and it claims some of the highest sales on the Gold Coast. Associate editor Natalie Gauld said The Chronicle recently held a focus group in one of the smaller towns which it services as to what readers want from their commu- nity newspaper. "The group said one of the first things readers turn to is the births, deaths and marriages sections," Ms Gauld said. The Chronicle runs weekly wed- ding and baby pictures, but will run obituaries only if it has regional im- portance. "We usually get an obituary a week," Gauld said. "But we run a weekly weddings page and often combine the babies with it as well." Wedding and baby pictures are run each Tuesday and obituaries on a Friday, and death notices run each day in the classifieds. "These community notices are still so important," Gauld said. "In fact, if the new mums miss the photographer at the hospital they will often come in with a pho- tograph of their babies or bring the baby in to be photographed for the paper," The Illawarra Mercury is one of the larger regional daily newspa- pers in NSW, covering an area from Stanwell Park and reaching as far south as Batemans Bay. Editor Simon Dulhunty said births, deaths and marriages are still as important to today's reader- ship as they were decades ago. "I think births, deaths marriages are especially compelling viewing for regional readership," he said. "And the smaller the region the bigger chance those names will mean something to them. "There is also the curiosity factor involved, and these sections are as popular now as they always have been." Each year The Illawarra Mercury publishes a special liftout on the babies born during that year and Dulhunty said the supplement is going from strength to strength. "Babies of theYear is such a circu- lation winner," he said. "People are proud of their new- borns. In terms of obituaries, fami- lies like to read about their loved ones and I think there will always be an interest in well-written obitu- aries. "Technology has only had an af- fect in making this sort of informa- tion more available and easier to access." Hatches, matches and dispatches Keeli Cambourne fnds out that people are still interested in arrivals and departures in their community Twins Eleni Helena and Nicholas Georgopoulous sleep at Freemason’s Hospital in East Melbourne, Picture By NICOLE EMANUEL faIrfax PhotoS