How to cover suicide (via the Dart Center)

There was a great post today about covering suicide from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma out of the Columbia Journalism School.

It’s an issue I’ve raised in classrooms and newsrooms: Suicide is a serious public health issue, yet we often look at our feet and wait for the moment to pass without a word being said.

My former ethics professor, Edward Wasserman (Knight Foundation professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University) talked about the issue in one of his columns for the Miami Herald, and it’s something we debated in class as well.

Most news organizations won’t touch suicide, and if they do, only if the victim is in the national spotlight or the attempt was in public. But in doing so we marginalize the others who have fallen to the same fate. Any time a member of our community is dramatically or violently taken from us, it is news and should be ethically and sensitively reported.

The article has some good tips about reporting on suicides in a way that raises awareness without inciting copycats or re-victimizing families. Here’s a few I really liked:

  • Include a sidebar with warning signs for depression or resources for getting help.
  • Don’t say the suicide came out of nowhere or was prompted by a single incident, like losing a job – depression exhibits warning signs, and the single cause oversimplifies the victim’s struggle.
  • Inform without sensationalizing (don’t refer to “skyrocketing” suicide rates or graphic crime scenes).
  • Use facts and an expert to educate your audience about depression and suicide.