Editor’s Note: Ethical Standards and Reporting on Suicides

Editor’s Note: Ethical Standards and Reporting on Suicides

Over the weekend, there was a suicide attempt in Torrance County. While I love sharing the work of first responders in our county, I will avoid reporting on a suicide or suicide attempt unless there is a secondary reason that the story is noteworthy.

By way of example, the suicide of a private citizen who does not operate in the public sphere is not newsworthy. The suicide of a noted author, such as Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Plath, or an intelligence asset for the US, like Aleksandr Ogorodnik, would be considered newsworthy because each has a secondary reason besides their passing to be in the public sphere (literary merit and heroism/political impact, respectively).

Locally, there may be instances where someone commits suicide rather than be prosecuted for criminal misconduct, or instances when someone who is a local political or business figure commits suicide. In both such examples, there is a newsworthiness component that may justify coverage.

Reporting on sensitive topics like suicide requires careful consideration and adherence to ethical guidelines. To that end, the Mountainair Dispatch will adhere to the following formal policies when it comes to reporting on suicide:

Sensitivity and Compassion:

  • The Mountainair Dispatch must approach stories about suicide with empathy, respect, and sensitivity towards the individuals affected, their families, and the wider community.
  • The Mountainair Dispatch will avoid using graphic or sensationalistic language, images, or details that may cause distress or encourage imitation.

Minimize Harm:

  • The Mountainair Dispatch will consider the potential impact of reporting on vulnerable audiences, particularly those who have experienced or are at risk of suicidal ideation.
  • The Mountainair Dispatch will avoid excessive coverage that may lead to contagion or the “Werther effect” (i.e., copycat suicides) by providing detailed descriptions of methods, locations, or personal histories of those involved.
  • The Mountainair Dispatch will refrain from speculating or making assumptions about motives unless supported by verified information.

Responsible Reporting:

  • The Mountainair Dispatch will prioritize accuracy by verifying facts from reliable sources before publishing or broadcasting.
  • The Mountainair Dispatch will seek expert input from mental health professionals, suicide prevention organizations, or other relevant authorities to provide accurate information and context.
  • The Mountainair Dispatch will highlight available resources such as helpline numbers, crisis centers, or support services for individuals in need.
  • The Mountainair Dispatch will obtain informed consent from individuals affected by suicide, their families, or legal representatives before sharing personal details or photographs, ensuring their well-being and privacy are respected.
  • The Mountainair Dispatch will be cautious when reporting on suicides within certain cultural or religious contexts, taking into account sensitivities and potential stigma.

Awareness and Education:

  • The Mountainair Dispatch will promote understanding and awareness of suicide as a complex public health issue, addressing its societal, psychological, and systemic dimensions.
  • The Mountainair Dispatch will collaborate with mental health organizations and experts to produce informative content that educates the public, reduces stigma, and encourages help-seeking behavior.

Postvention Measures:

  • The Mountainair Dispatch will provide information on postvention resources for communities affected by suicide, such as support groups, counseling services, or memorial events.
  • The Mountainair Dispatch will offer stories of hope, resilience, and recovery that emphasize the importance of mental health treatment and support.

Because journalistic standards and societal understanding of suicide reporting will evolve, this policy will be subject to change in an attempt to match standards and norms. You can find these (and eventually other) reporting policies and standards adhered to by the Mountainair Dispatch by checking out the Standards and Practices page. You can find mental health resources either by going directly to the mental health resources page or by going to the health section of the community resources page.

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