Covering suicide


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A presentation on what student newspapers should consider in coverage of suicide

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Covering suicide

  1. 1. Covering Suicide Rachele Kanigel San Francisco State University
  2. 2. Suicide: To cover or not to cover? When should a news organization report news of a suicide? Why should a news organization report a suicide? What are the reasons for not reporting on suicide? How can journalists, especially student journalists, cover suicide responsibly?
  3. 3. Most professional newsorganizations DO NOT cover suicideunless… It causes a public spectacle It’s committed in connection with another crime, such as a homicide or kidnapping It’s committed by a public figure
  4. 4. Student news organizations oftenDO cover suicide because… It may affect a large segment of the campus community Suicide is the leading cause of death among college students (6 suicides per 100,000 college students per year, according to a recent study) Coverage can dispel rumors It can help the community heal and make sense of a tragedy
  5. 5. “The media can play a powerful role in educating the public about suicide prevention. Stories about suicide can inform readers and viewers about the likely causes of suicide, its warning signs, trends in suicide rates, and recent treatment advances. They can also highlight opportunities to prevent suicide. --American Society of Suicidology
  6. 6. Risk: Suicide clusters Every year in the United States 100 to 200 youngsters die in suicide clusters, and there are signs that the rate is rising. Suicide clusters in the U.S. occur predominantly among teenagers and young adults. -- Suicide and Mental Health Association International
  7. 7. Media contagion Research suggests that spotlighting a suicide through media coverage can actually encourage others to follow suit -- especially if suicide is portrayed as glamorous or romantic. Prominent newspaper (or television) coverage of a suicide has been found to increase suicidal behavior within the readership(viewing) area of the newspaper (network).
  8. 8. Ethics Case Study: U of Portland In March 2009 a University of Portland student committed suicide The Beacon wrote a story with the headline: “Suicide claims UP senior” University officials pulled the paper, saying the headline was insensitive, inappropriate and “designed to shock people.”
  9. 9. Ethics Case Study: U of Portland Suicide claims UP senior Do you think the headline was insensitive? What would you have done if campus officials yanked your paper from the racks in a situation like this?
  10. 10. Ethics Case Study: San FranciscoState UniversityIn September a SFSU student set himself on fire at a gas station.Here are the original Golden Gate Xpress story and a follow-up:
  11. 11. Ethics Case Study: SFSUWhat do you think of the use of suicide in the headlines?Is the original story too graphic?Should the paper have described the cause of death?Should the paper have gone into so much detail about his state of mind?
  12. 12. Ethics Case Study: University ofOttawaOn Sept. 19, 2009 a 19-year-old jumped to his death from the 15th floor of a U of Ottawa residence hallThe Fulcrum named the student but didn’t say how he died
  13. 13. Case Study: University of OttawaShould the story have included the fact the student had committed suicide?Was it irresponsible to say the student fell rather than that he jumped?Did the paper sweep the issue under the rug or protect its readers?
  14. 14. Ethics Case Study: Princeton UWas it responsible for The Daily Princetonian to report on a suicide attempt?When is it appropriate to report on an attempted suicide?
  15. 15. The DailyToreador,Texas TechUniversity
  16. 16. The DailyToreador,Texas TechUniversity
  17. 17. Ethics Case Study: Texas Tech U.Was The Daily Toreador insensitive in its coverage of the story?What could the paper have done to ensure the story wouldn’t offend readers and friends of the dead young man?Should editors worry about offending friends and family members in covering a suicide or simply report the truth?
  18. 18. Tips for Covering Suicide
  19. 19. How to cover suicide responsiblyDon’t oversimplify reasons for the suicide, such as blaming it on stress.Don’t make it seem painless or easy.Don’t sensationalize the death.Avoid melodramatic languague – ex: tragic death, a life cut short
  20. 20. How to cover suicide responsiblyDon’t glorify the victim.Don’t engage in ongoing or excessive coverage.Don’t use the word suicide unless official sources – police or family members – confirm the cause of death was suicide.
  21. 21. How to cover suicide responsiblyDon’t provide a how-to; don’t cover the method of death in detail.Bring awareness to the problemOffer resources -- suicide hotlines, counseling services, etc.Doublecheck statements from family members
  22. 22. Readings on Covering SuicidePoynter: Reporting on SuicideThe Globe & Mail: Burying the story wont stop suicideDart Center for Journalism & Trauma: Covering Teen SuicideDart Center: Suicide
  23. 23. Links to Stories Referenced The Beacon, University of Portland Golden Gate Xpress, San Francisco State U The Daily Toreador, Texas Tech University Fulcrum, University of Ottawa The Daily Princetonian, Princeton U
  24. 24. More information about coveringsuicide can be found inThe Student Newspaper SurvivalGuide This slide show can be found at ng-suicide