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Readers were shocked after daily Pennsylvania newspaper The Sharon Herald published an insensitive and gratuitous story that horrifically detailed a local man’s death by suicide. “I’m disgusted with a newspaper that has no respect for human life…most especially my son’s life,” the man’s mother told iMediaEthics.

“This is a great example of how not to report a suicide death,” Ken Norton, executive director of the National Alliance for Mental Illness, New Hampshire, told iMediaEthics by e-mail.

Experts and scientific literature agree that the April 4 article shatters basic industry best practices for the ethics of reporting on suicide. Graphic details included the temperature and condition of the deceased, how the death occurred, and the dredging up of the man’s old legal run-in and mental illness.

News outlets have a significant responsibility to carefully report on suicide deaths because unnecessarily detailed and insensitive news reports on suicides can risk causing additional deaths by suicide — the contagion factor. Suicide is a health crisis, with the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics revealing April 22 that suicide rates in this country are at their highest since 1986.

Families and friends of the deceased also suffer from such insensitivity, adding to their loss.

The article’s graphic description of the man’s death continues to haunt his grieving mother’s mind. “I’m hurt,” she told iMediaEthics. “I’m angry. I’m disgusted.”

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How Not to Report on Suicide: Sharon Herald Story Crossed the Line

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10 Responses

  1. Shane Beesley says:

    Great article. Our local paper did a great disservice to the family of the diseased and our community. I’m glad that they are being held accountable for their rubbish. Thank you.

  2. Bob says:

    Thank you for this article. I read the original piece and was appalled. It was extremely insensitive and offered no sense of compassion or hope. Joe was a beloved friend who, before his Illness, was the most kind, compassionate, caring individual. I have been in disbelief since reading the article and your piece has helped me process the wrongs that were done and move forward. I hope the koscinki’s find some peace. Joe deserved better. RIP my friend.

  3. Jennifer Lyndsey says:

    Thank you for bringing to light the poor style of the writers involved. Reading the original article less than 24 hours after the death felt like I was reading something from a crime fiction novel. I felt embarrassment for a news outlet that should be objectively representing our small town. I hope this also encourages them to look further into our dwindling mental health system locally.

  4. George Garrigues says:

    This is really a terrible and one-sided article. It gave to quotations from the story in question, and it gave no comments from the reporter who wrote it. I don’t understand how any editor in charge of this web page could have allowed such an incomplete story to be posted. This article itself is a great “media lapse.”

    • Sydney Smith says:

      Dear Mr. Garrigues,
      We contacted the newspaper’s publisher and reporters several times. We only received a statement in response from the publisher on behalf of the newspaper, which is included in this story. We have updated to detail the efforts we made, as that was cut during editing. Sydney

  5. Nancy says:

    Yes mental illness is real I myself suffer from depression but where is the responsibility for his own actions.The whole situation is sad.I suffered since my early teen years and as a 41 year old woman I know When things are getting over whelming I know its time to make a doctor’s appointment to adjust my meds or seek out counseling..in most cases people see suicide as a last choice and the key word is choice..He choose to end his life the way he did and let’s not forget he endangered the public also..I apologize if I sound insensitive my heart breaks for his family because suicide is a selfish act and I understand is hurt right now and looking for someone to blame,but its not the Sharon Herolds fault..

    • Sydney Smith says:

      Mental illness is not a choice.
      This story is focused on media reporting on suicide and best practices for coverage.
      Sydney

  6. PJ Torr says:

    Thank you for calling out The Herald. Joe and his family deserved better. One of the worst things about the whole situation was that one of the reporters was from the immediate area and knew the family. Not sure how low they can go, The Herald has always been a rag, but this has to be one of their worst written stories in recent times.

  7. Sandra says:

    Thank you for bringing to light a newspaper that crosses the ethical and emphatic lines consistently . The Sharon Hearald editors will do what ever they can to sell newspapers with no regard to how their stories affect the families of their sensationalism .
    My heart goes out to the family of this young man.
    Hopefully the editions learn from this , however, I think the only thing that will put a stop to their practices is for folks to stop buying the newspaper.

  8. DFofSEA says:

    Perhaps out of their misguided fear of “suicide contagion” (“crime and corruption contagion” doesn’t seem to stop any other kinds of reporting) the media usually downplays or ignores stories about suicide.

    When a story does appears its usually stripped of all humanity and used to trot out platitudes, statistics, and share a few crisis phone numbers. Hundreds of lives are lost every week perhaps because these stories of suffering and loss go unreported. The daily example of a socity that doesn’t care and no one trying to understand the suffering of someone before (or after) they take their life.

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