Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Should Journalists Report On Suicides?

Last week, a 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania freshman on the track team commit suicide in Center City. Her death has become news around the world, as the understanding is that her actions were caused by the stress of the academic setting.

The reality is that no one knows with any certainty why she jumped off a parking garage.

A Philly Mag writer questioned why this situation has become such a large story, when the media generally shun suicides as personal situations that are therefore not deemed relevant to the public at large.

Last fall, when a Temple student threatened to commit suicide and police evacuated a city block near campus, news outlets covered the story but never released the distressed student's name. Once the block was reopened to the residents, the story pretty much disappeared from the news.

Do the circumstances of the more recent situation deem it to be newsworthy? It's an Ivy League school and she was an attractive young woman. Her actions were in a very public place, and there have been other suicides at Penn over the past few years.

Should journalists change their longstanding policy of not covering suicides and report on them when needed? Or should we allow these families to deal with the situation in private?

19 comments:

Meredith Hebert said...

I believe that for journalists to report suicides is inappropriate and too personal unless the death directly affects a larger population. For example, if a person were to kill his or herself by jumping in front of a train, which therefore caused delays and other commuting problems, then it would be considered news (due to its larger effect as a whole) and an appropriate topic to report on the local news.

With the incident that occurred on our campus last year, I believe it is news worthy because it caused an entire block evacuation, however the incident is more appropriate for Temple News, rather than local news (due to it only affecting the Temple community).

Kristen Bowler said...

I believe journalists should report on suicides, with respect toward the families wishes. Research actually shows that one of the best ways to prevent suicide is through safe media reporting. It is important to increase awareness and understanding about tragedies such as this in order for them to be prevented in the future. It is found so important to report on this topic, that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), and other organizations of the like got together with researchers and journalists to create the "Recommendations for Media Reporting on Suicide." Also, the website, www.ReportingOnSuicide.org was created to provide access to these recommendations.

Jaimie Watts said...

I believe that journalist should not report on suicides because they are a personal matter and it does not affect a large group of people. In this situation it was a college girl that jumped to her death. Her family should not have to deal with the publicity of the situation while they are still in mourning. Also I could see reporting on the suicide of an important figure, like the president of the United States or a hollywood starlet, but not for too long. The deaths of these figures would affect a bigger population than a college girl that was under too much stress.
In class today it was stated that people could relate to Miss Holleran and that is why it is being reported on a large scale. That could be said for any suicide in the world because certain people can find way to relate to situations. I think she is getting the attention because she is pretty and because it sheds light on the stress that young adults face with being in school. Maybe this story is big because it is trying to prove a point that college can be stressful and push people to their breaking points.

Kaitlyn Mashack said...

I do not believe that it is wrong to report on a suicide if, like other commenters have already pointed out, that a reporter is respectful of the situation and the family is okay with giving out information. Do I think they should run the story just because she is pretty? No. However, if there is a reason or a tie to the particular incident, such as a teaching moment for other students, then I think it is perfectly acceptable. In this case, a lesson for other struggling teenagers and students is perfectly okay.

Jade London-Johnson said...

I think reporting suicide is very important. Suicide is something I believe people should be aware of because we need to know that it is still real and happening. In other words, people should be concerned because they want to do things to help. Similar to a previous comment, I don't think it is fair that this story made headlines because she is beautiful. I think purpose for reporting suicide should be because people want to do something to help in the future, not because they are pretty.

John McGuire said...

Any suicide should be considered an unspeakable tragedy regardless of who commits it. If this statement is true, then yes, the suicide of an attractive, 19-year old University of Pennsylvania student with seemingly nothing but great prospects for the future should be considered horrific, but why doesn't the mass media say the same for, let's say, a 53-year old, obese, KFC fry cook living in inner city Detroit who also commits suicide? For the media to turn one suicide into an international story and not the other is unjustifiable.

Sure, the story of the Ivy League student resonates with an abundance of college students who are, perhaps, feeling a similar kind of stress. It certainly resonates with thousands of parents who may be worried that their child is suffering from his or her own private depression as well. However, no one can say with any certainty that this particular young woman's suicide was caused by any factor in particular as she presumably spoke to no one about her intentions. For the media to present her as committing suicide for any one reason is, at the end of the day, a fabrication. What she was thinking in those seconds before she hit the ground is unknowable to anyone but her. Furthermore, for the media to cover her story rigorously while saying nothing about the suicide of a middle-aged fast food worker, or any of the other suicides that occur with unnerving constancy, is not right. It may be more beneficial to society if the media were to ask the question "Suicide happens all the time. What can everyone do to prevent it?" instead of "How could someone so beautiful, intelligent and athletic commit suicide?"

Molly Davish said...

Many times suicide is overlooked as a big picture. Unfortunately, it happens everyday. We do not know the full story because as you said it is a personal matter. The media does a great job of placing their bias opinion on us. We know of this girl as a beautiful, young, smart, athlete; but do we know that it was only the stress of her track and school career that was what made her commit suicide or is there a background that we do not know. The media either did not find out about, or just did not include in their story. I believe that is a good thing not to lie but to not disclose all information on a subject as sensitive as suicide. With all of her family and loved ones with only this memory of her. For all the world to see.
Also did the media include this story because it is relatable to more people than if she was just a highschool drop out? A random girl on the streets? The media wants something that is relatable that could possibly draw more attention to more stories. If a story about suicide is published it should not only end on a good note, but also educated people on the early signs of suicide and prevention.

Mariam Dembele said...

I think there is an extent to what the media is allowed to report on. I'm idealistic in the way that I believe the media should cover events that by informing the public will either benefit the public or those who the article is about in someway. I don't think that topics should be covered solely because of the intrigue factor or that it can bring in a large audience of viewers/readers. Suicides and attempted suicides are a private matter and by bringing attention to the people involved can hinder the recovery of those who have been pinpointed and can cause a great deal of unwanted attention.

However, I agree that if the topic is covered in a general matter and that if the journalists look at the trends and at methods to combat depression leading to suicide then it would be beneficial to report on that. However, singling out individuals usually does not benefit anyone unless they focus on the main issue, the stress of school work and how to cope with that. Just as sometimes the media is asked not to report on ongoing investigations because it might hinder the development of the case. Reporting simply because of the intrigue factor or the curiosity of others can end up being detrimental rather than beneficial to others.

Taylor Smethers said...

Taylor Smethers said...

I do believe journalists should have the opportunity to report on suicides, but these articles should be published minimally. There should be a specific informational purpose for it as well. To me, it seems as if this catastrophe was published because she was a beautiful, young, smart, athlete, which creates a shock value for the reader. However, because of these qualities, she is also very relatable to other struggling college students. Therefor, this article should have been published with her story to establish the ethos for the reader, but followed up with researched information about the percentage of suicides among young students and how to prevent them.

If a suicide is reported in the news, there should be a way to inform the reader about how common this may be, ways to cope, possible warning signs and red flags. In effect that information may open up ways for someone, who may be afraid, to reach out and talk to someone. An article covering a suicide should not be extremely personal for that is hard on the family and friends. On the contrary, if a reporter is going to publish an article on a suicide, it should never be just to inform the world that we have lost yet another life, but rather how the situation should create an opportunity to grow as a community and to learn how to help one another.

Michele Gaston - Temple said...

Suicide is a very sensitive topic and should be handled with respect and courtesy towards that family. I do not believe that a suicide of a private member of society should be covered by the media unless the family deems it appropriate for the education of the general public. If we can turn it into a learning experience then that is fine, but again, only if the family consents. I have a friend who died by suicide and the family wanted the information published because apparently, there were several suicides that had taken place in the school within a short period of time and the family wanted to raise awareness and encourage people to seek help because there are other ways to deal with troubles, as well as educate other people on what signs to look for.

If it is a public figure, then the media will more than likely report on it just because the person is a recognized figure. Even in those cases, it should still be handled with sensitivity and respect for the family. Suicide is still widely considered a taboo in our society and the person who commits the act as well as their family and friends are often unfairly labeled as being crazy or associated with crazy which can become a serious issue.

Chris Nabal said...

I think the issue of suicide and the stresses of college and work merit a discussion. However, there should be a limited degree of media coverage as far as reporting details on specific individuals. The family of these people deserve privacy and the names and pictures of the victims should not be so quickly thrust into the spotlight. I think that's the problem in this case, especially when there are suicides every day, some with the same or similar circumstances that go completely unnoticed.

If the goal is to open a dialogue and bring awareness to a serious issue people might otherwise overlook, then covering the story is a good thing. But using the name and likeness of this girl just to bring in views is not in my opinion providing valuable or ethical journalism.

Shealyn Kilroy said...

I believe suicides should not be reported. Suicides are a private matter and should not call much attention to be drawn on the event. I believe the Liacouras Walk story was covered pretty accurately. I don’t agree with even publishing the story, however, the name was not released and very little was said causing not much of a stir which was very appropriate. What is happening with this Madison Holleran story is absolutely disgusting for multiple reasons. The girl obviously had a lot on her plate and her decision to take her own life is a matter that should only be spoke about amongst the people who knew and loved her - not by the public. However, she is attractive and seemed to have the world in the palm of her hands and THAT is why the story is becoming a top news story around the globe. If Holleran was a decent or unattractive looking woman who went to a community college, I would bet that we, the public and not friends, relatives or Holleran, wouldn’t even recognize the name Madison Holleran. I understand the academic rigor of schoolwork to be highlighted with this story but that’s just moral panic. Overall, suicides do not affect anyone but the family and friends of that particular person therefore have no right to be covered for public news.

Danika Palmeri said...

Suicides happen so frequently and are too far under-reported. Suicide is a sensitive topic that many people are uncomfortable discussing, especially if they have been affected by the suicide of a friend or family member. Many people do not want to think about, much less discuss, the reasons why the person they knew committed suicide. Why, then, are news reporters including in their commentaries about Holleran the assumed reasons behind her suicide? While I'm sure the pressures and expectations of college and varsity sports was in fact stressful, there may have been other underlying reasons that she decided to end her life. I think that discussing suicides in news stories can be useful in spreading the knowledge of suicide prevention. That being said, it should always be a priority of journalists and news reporters to be sensitive to the information, respectful of the family and the deceased, and not to make assumptions regarding the suicide in their news story.

Haley Kuhns said...

I feel as though this depends on the family. Many families who are mourning the loss of a family member who chose to commit suicide, do not wish to speak openly about it, and some do not even wish for it to be shared on the news. The father of this girl however chose to openly speak about the loss of his daughter and to share that this happened because of the stresses of school. I think her father chose to share this information because there are so many people in college right now and i feel as though he wanted people to see that suicide does not have to be the answer to the stressors. I also feel that because she was a beautiful, athletic, smart young girl, the media took that and ran with it. They strongly emphasize that she was a beautiful girl who was at the University of Penn, an Ivy League school. It was a story that would capture the attention of many because a girl who seemed to have it all chose to end her life. I think that it is important to inform people of the dangers of suicide in order to try to prevent it, however I do not think that this is what journalists were doing with this story. I think that they were taking a tragedy of a young beautiful girl who took her life and using it as a story that would sell.

Woo Jeong Kim said...

I do not think it is wrong to report news like this because I believe that people should be aware of what kind of things are happening presently around them. People should understand the kind of stress athletes have to endure in college.

However, other athletes who have committed suicide in the past were not made to be this big of an issue and so I think that part is wrong. I understand that this may be big news to us personally since it happened close by but the fact that people are more interested about this particular person because she is attractive is pitiful. Nonetheless, I hope she rests in peace.

Ryan Snowden said...

Journalists should report on suicides as long as the family of the deceased gives permission to do so. Suicides are a very 'touchy' subject, and the person who died may not be represented for who they really were. I always believe people are responsible for their own actions, however depression and mental health issues are viscous evils that can control their victims to the most disastrous point. Unfortunately in the case of this young lady at Penn, those evils forced her to commit suicide and my prayers go out to her family and friends. Perhaps her untimely death could attract attention to depression and allow others who suffer from similar issues to know they are not alone and could help and possibly save lives. There is always a positive and negative side to reporting an issue like this, and it should be left up to the family members. They are entitled to their privacy and I admire anyone who shares their story in a possible effort to help others.

Kate Reilly said...

The fact is that this story pretty much fills all of the newsworthy criteria (in my opinion). I don't see a problem with covering this story, but there clearly is a problem with the amount of coverage this young woman's tragic suicide is getting. When comparing it with the 17 hour standoff on Willington street, the main reason news outlets didn't release the young mans name was because he was still alive and trying to be reasoned with. I have no doubt his name would have been released if he had decided to take his own life like this girl did.

Anonymous said...

Suicide has become an unfortunate reality in our day to day lives. It is our job as journalists to shed light on a topic that can impact any one of us. However, it is incredibly irresponsible to profit from individual cases. The story should have been covered in a manner that protected the identity of both the student and the family.

Bryn Wassel said...

I believe journalists should report on suicides especially with stories like this one in particular. I feel that this story satisfies all the newsworthy criteria therefore I don't see a problem with this story. This story is very relatable towards college students especially. Many students in this day and age feel an extreme amount of pressure. Although the story is very unfortunate, I feel that it reaches out to a large amount of people. So, if journalists do choose to cover certain suicides, I would hope that they would cover it in a way that could somehow benefit the people for the greater good.