Teaching Trauma 4: Covering suicides

PART FIVE

Rachele KanigelPart Five ouf our Teaching Trauma workshop looked at covering suicide.

Presenter Rachele Kanigel from San Francisco State University pointed out that most news organizations do not cover suicide stories unless the suicide is part of a bigger story, such as a murder-suicide, or involves celebrity.

Student organizations are different, though. They are more likely to cover suicide. This is because the campus community is a smaller community and a single death is not expected; when it occurs it has a profound impact on the community. She said that suicides also account for the third largest cause of death for ages 13-24 behind accidents and homicides.

Should student organizations report suicides, when should they do so, and how should they do so? What issues should they consider in covering suicide.

As for when to cover a campus suicide Kanigel reported three scenarios her students have had to deal with in the past: An outsider came on campus and jumped off a tall building, a student committed suicide during Spring Break and a media staff member committed suicide. Which, if any of those would you cover and how?

And how would your answers differ if you take the word “suicide” out of the equation? What if it just said the person died? Would your answers changs…and should they? And, in keeping with the reoccuring theme of the day, how does the reporter deal with the personal emotional issues of covering the story and living with it.

Some questions to consider in reporting suicides: Be aware of the concepts of suicide clusters (also see). How you report suicide, including use of details, glorificaiton or victimization of the person, has been shown to lead to copycat or clustering of deaths.

A good checklist for coverage of suicides.

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