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Suicide coverage

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Sheri, Jun 11, 2008.

  1. Sheri

    Sheri Member

    So, what's the score when police have issued a press release pertaining a "sudden death" which is being investigated by the major crimes unit, which subsequently turns into a suicide?

    As soon as they decided the vic had cashed her own chips in, that was the immediate end of press releases. Like it never happened.

    Except that it did - and was reported on already.

    Clearly, people who don't know the deal might want to know cause of death and "foul play is not suspected" sure as hell wouldn't satisfy my curiosity.

    Just curious what standard operating procedure is over yonder.

  2. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    Writing that a suspected homicide was actually a suicide is not unheard of.
    Like all suicides, it depends a lot on how public the suicide was (or the original ruling of homicide) and how well known the victim was...
  3. PCLoadLetter

    PCLoadLetter Well-Known Member

    Agreed with Slappy. And I think you have to have a pretty compelling reason to go with the suicide.

    Not sure what else the police are going to tell you after they tell you it's a suicide, anyway.

    We had a case here a few weeks ago - a "sudden death" of a man inside a massive estate (so big, the house has its own 18 hole golf course). Turned out it was the estate owner who was CEO of a very large mortgage company. Even in the follow-up stories everyone left it as a "sudden death," although everyone knew off the record exactly how he killed himself.

    I thought the reporting showed some admirable restraint, as it would have been really easy to turn on the pathos with a mortgage company gazillionaire killing himself. In reality the guy had massive emotional problems and his co-workers had all been expecting this.
  4. NX

    NX Member

    Shortly after I started here, a slow day gave way to a ride-along with the news editor to what we thought was a stand-off between a resident and a couple police officers. After a shot was fired, the news editor quickly learned what happened. "It's a suicide," he said as he packed his binoculars and camera away. "We're done."

    There was a suicide here last week. But our policy is to never do anything with them. They get zero coverage.

    I actually had a discussion about this with a colleague a couple years ago. Don't remember exactly where it was, but some jumper had caused a major traffic jam and a photographer took a photo of the traffic, I believe. If the suicide impacts hundreds, you probably can't ignore it.
  5. Unless it's someone under 18, I can't see any justification for ignoring a notable death from any cause.
  6. NX

    NX Member

    One school of thought is it comes down to the belief system of those in charge of the editorial content of the respective newspaper. Some people believe taking your own life is playing God and those people are not going to give that any play from an ethical or moral standpoint.

    My sister-in-law seems fine now, but she used to OD on a regular basis, it seemed. She was a medical student, so she knew just how much to not take so she wouldn't die, only cry for help. I don't know how many times my brother found her unresponsive on the floor, but he loved her enough to stick with her, even though now he instinctively panics, checking every room each time he comes home expecting her to be there when she's out getting some milk.

    She grew up with a mother who was a supreme puppet master and controlled all the strings. My wife gave my 16-year-old brother-in-law a haircut once and asked him how he wanted it. He didn't know what to say, because he never had a choice in something as simple as a haircut. The mother was PISSED when she saw the haircut she didn't consent to. The kid later ran away from home.

    Obviously, my sister-in-law didn't want to die, but her eating disorder, along with her ODing, were the things she could control in a world of an ultra-controlling mother and, dare I say, a controlling, although somewhat less, husband. It was also a way for her to get attention.

    The two kids responsible from Columbine knew they were going to get some press, as do many who commit those kind of murder-suicide atrocities. They revel in the fact that they are going to become "famous". I don't think every person who commits suicide is thinking, "This will get me the papers!" But I have to believe some are thinking that.

    Suicides are not victimless "crimes". One person is dead, but there are countless others who feel it. I wouldn't be opposed to a narrative about a family as they struggle to deal with it, granted, of course, that they consent, but I'd have to think hard about giving any ink to the suicide itself.
  7. Sheri

    Sheri Member

    I called back for clarification on sudden death. Young cop confrims they suspect suicide and are awaiting autopsy report.
    I publish "suspected suicide" and next day the senior cop calls not overly impressed with my journalistic prowess. Of course, I am not overly impressed by him. Square business.

    Anyway, I figure if it's already been reported on at the initiation of the police (release on sudden death complaint) they're going to have to suck it up and realize we need to step out of the suicide closet in such circumstances.
  8. NX

    NX Member

    Oh wait, NSP, I just realized by your use of the word "notable" that you might have been referring directly to the gazillionaire killing himself. Not much sleep last night, or the past month for that matter, in this area. The NOAA weather radio, a MUST have during this hellish weather cycle, kept going off throughout the night.

    Would the same rules apply to someone who is that much of that kind of a public figure? That might be different.
  9. mustangj17

    mustangj17 Active Member

    With suicide it's always a good idea to either run the story about a death and leave the details fuzzy- even though that goes against what we're supposed to do. Or, run it without a name. Either way it isn't exactly precise, but running a name, or an in depth story about a suicide is unethical. The family and friends of the victim have to deal with enough. Reading about it in a paper will just generate further problems and embarrassment.
  10. rascalface

    rascalface Member

    Back in a previous life as a cops reporter, suicide coverage was generally limited to people who did it in public (someone who hangs himself in the community park, jumps off an overpass, throws himself in front of a train, etc.) or if it was committed by someone of note.

    In the case of the OP, I'd bypass the cops if they're clamming up and go straight to the coroner/ME.

    And I disagree 100 percent with mustang. Writing about suicide is not "unethical," though it can be (and often is) insensitive. It's one of the (many) reasons I got out of doing cops. That said, it's the media's job to report news. If that weren't the case, you would never read about fatal car crashes or murder victims because "the family is going through so much."
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