A grid showing portraits of four different people.
Oaklandside obituaries honor the remarkable lives led in this city. Clockwise from left: Marty Glass, Barbara Newcombe, Willie Ellis, Dwight Garner. Credit: Courtesy of their families

A 90-year-old who renovated a grand public staircase. An unhoused man known as the mayor of Lake Merritt. A Florida resident who grew up in East Oakland and didn’t leave the Bay Area without first participating in one of the most extraordinary moments in college football history

Countless remarkable lives are lived in Oakland, each leaving a mark on its neighborhood and community. Most residents never make the news, but they’re still important to the city’s history.

Last year, we started publishing obituaries written by the family or friends of the deceased. This helps our newsroom and readers learn more about Oakland’s history and provides a free service to loved ones.

For decades, newspapers had robust obituary sections where readers could find detailed stories, written by experienced journalists, about neighbors and strangers alike. As the news industry has struggled, publications have cut costs, and deeply reported obituaries are often on the chopping block. To develop this series, we consulted with other journalists who’ve thought a lot about why obituaries matter.

“I think it’s really important that news organizations remember there’s no replacement for this,” said Kristen Hare, a faculty member at Poynter who writes obituaries for the Tampa Bay Times

Submit a tribute to your late loved one.

“If we’re not telling the stories of the bodega owners and the piano teachers and the folk artists, they’re not getting told. I think it’s essential that local news organizations make space for our community members to get to know each other.”

Hare is an obit evangelist. Along with reviving the Tampa Bay Times’ feature obituary series, she completed a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute looking at the potential of reported obituaries to build community and new audiences. 

“Nearly every week, I feel like I’m writing a mini-history, a puzzle piece in understanding a place I’ve lived for years,” Hare told us. 

Since day one of The Oaklandside, readers have asked us to cover Oakland’s history. Just like our reporting on cultural history, natural history, and history of the built environment, we hope this work will help us all better understand how Oakland became the city we know today.

Residents can share obituaries for free

We share Oakland residents’ stories by showcasing their impact on local communities, even if it means breaking from traditional journalistic and obituary norms.

For example, we published a delightful (yes, really!) obit written by the late subject of the piece himself, Marty Glass. Marty wrote his own biography before he died, and his son submitted it to us as the most accurate representation of his father’s life. 

Unlike reporting breaking news, we don’t rush to get this information out, allowing grieving writers time to share their memories. 

The Oaklandside’s obituaries are published for free. Many news outlets charge families based on the length of the obituary, using them as a source of revenue.

The news industry has undergone significant change and destabilization in recent years, and outlets are scrambling to stay open. But putting a price on submitting an obituary can lead to residents “getting hit with a $1,500 or $3,000 bill to share their story in a local publication,” Hare said. 

These costs limit who’s able to document their losses, Hare said. “When you look at paid obits, you see that the ones that are longer tend to be about white men.” In diverse Oakland, we believe it would be inaccurate to preserve only the stories of residents whose families can afford it. 

“Death is monetized so strangely in this country,” added Berkeleyside Managing Editor Zac Farber, who oversees our sister publication’s community obituary program. “People are dealing with so many logistics around their loved ones passing.” He said he often hears from obit authors who say it’s a relief to encounter a process that treats them “compassionately and professionally.” 

“We don’t charge, but we let people know they can support our work with donations,” and they often choose to, Farber said.

Berkeleyside’s community obit section is one of the longstanding features that the site’s readers have grown to love and count on. Those obits—which often highlight key political and cultural figures from Berkeley’s storied past and beloved residents—were a central inspiration for our work at The Oaklandside. 

For Farber, obituaries are journalism, like everything Berkeleyside publishes. In small, close-knit Berkeley, many readers will have had a big or small connection with the subject of an obit.

“There’s going to be hundreds or thousands of people here who knew them,” Farber said. “Their life is as newsworthy as anything we do.”

How to honor your loved one in The Oaklandside

If you’ve lost a loved one recently, you may be wondering how you can share your memory of them in The Oaklandside. 

We occasionally collaborate with families and friends to share longer tributes. However, we also provide a platform for residents to share shorter memories and photos of more Oaklanders who have passed away. This feature allows our small newsroom to recognize more people and helps more residents celebrate their loved ones without writing an in-depth obituary. 

If you want to honor your loved one with a short tribute or are interested in writing a longer obituary, let us know through the form below.

Thank you for trusting us with their stories. We’re honored to help tell them.

Natalie Orenstein covers housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously on staff at Berkeleyside, where her extensive reporting on the legacy of school desegregation received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal and the Education Writers Association. Natalie’s reporting has also appeared in The J Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and she’s written about public policy for a number of research institutes and think tanks. Natalie lives in Oakland, grew up in Berkeley, and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.