To report or not to report, that is the question…
After confirming that Starker’s owner and chef John McClure took his own life yesterday, I reported the news here. Much to the chagrine of some commenters.
"Was that necessary to post right now when people are just learning of his passing???" asked LJ. "Perhaps some sensitivity to his family or friends who have not yet heard. This is deplorable."
"How dare you Hearne! Have you no tact, no soul??" added Jenn Tosatto.
Someone going by % however said: "It’s journalism. It may not be what people want to read, particularly if they knew the deceased, but it’s still journalism."
"So wait… I missed the part where Hearne killed the chef… as far as I can tell, McClure killed himself," said TruthSpeaks. "That sucks, and I feel bad for the terrible sorrow his friends and family must be feeling, but come on, a lot of these comments are a shining example of misdirected anger."
Bottom line: Reporting suicides is a tricky business – even when delicately done – one most are afraid to do.
After fishing around on Facebook for details of McClure’s demise, the Star‘s Joyce Smith undoubtedly clued in on the reason for McClure’s death. However, she chose not to report the news. Ditto for the Pitch’s Charles Ferruzza. Although he has far better sources in the restaurant biz and probably knew it was a suicide from the get-go and was merely trying to take the high road.
But is covering up obvious news about the cause of a high profile person’s death really the high road?
"Suicide is a leading cause of death, substantially more prevalent than homicide," writes the Poynter institute’s Cindi Deutschman-Ruiz. "About 30,000 people kill themselves in this country yearly and half a million more wind up in the emergency room following a suicide attempt. Does media coverage of suicide reflect these realities? Generally not."
" Gauging from the news, it would be easy to conclude that suicide is rare, rather than a widespread and ongoing public health problem," she adds. "As journalists, we’re fond of criticizing ourselves for over-covering homicide. Why do we fail to address our under-coverage of suicide?"
In part because suicide is considered by some to be a stigma,Deutschman-Ruiz contends.
" (But) suicide coverage is an opportunity to provide the public with information and resources that could save lives. Journalists often fail to do this, despite the obvious potential to do good. People who commit suicide do not do so suddenly, even if it might appear so at first glance. There are warning signs, and I think any coverage of suicide should incorporate them."
Professional journalist and blogger Martha Ross poses this question: "Does not reporting on suicide enhance the stigma of suicide and mental illness?"
"You rarely see suicide mentioned as the cause of death in an obituary," she writes. "However, sometimes you can pick up hints, if the person was fairly young and died suddenly and the family, in lieu of flowers, asks that donations be made to an organization such as the National Alliance on Mental Health."
Another reason for an increase in suicides; the economy.
"This is what the economy is doing to people," says Westport businessman Bill Nigro. "A lot of people have been ruined in this economy. It’s devastated a lot of people and it’s not really being talked about in the news media."
Bay Citizen columnist Scott James says reporting on suicides is "relatively rare" even though there’s a bull market in practice today.
"Theories abound regarding the cause behind this year’s surge (in suicides), but full explanations perish with victims," James writes, adding, "some experts are pointing to economic despair."
"Studies have shown that suicide rates tend to increase about 18 months after an economic decline," he reports.
“Suicide is an attempt to stop pain,” Eve Meyer, executive director of San Francisco Suicide Prevention tells James, and it’s not limited to mental illness, which is a misconception. “That pain can be emotional, physical or economic,” she said.
So yes, I understand that suicide is a sensitive subject, but many experts agree it’s time for journalists to come out of the closet on the subject. Difficult though that may be.
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Kansas City suicide hotlines include:
Mental Health Help Line
Teen Connection Helpline
Wyandotte Mental Health Center County Crisis Line: (913) 831-177