This is definitely one of the more insensitive headlines iMediaEthics has seen in a while.
The Australian Daily Telegraph, owned by Rupert Murdoch, headlined a story about the news of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Sunday death “Kids grieve for junkie actor dad,” the Guardian‘s media blogger Roy Greenslade reports. The Telegraph is owned by News Corp.’s Australia branch, News Limited.
Hoffman was found dead in a West Village apartment on Sunday, Feb. 2, reportedly with loads of heroin nearby and a needle hanging from his arm. In 2013, he had sought treatment for addiction after using heroin. In 2006, he told CBS News’ 60 Minutes that he was in rehab and “got sober” when he was 22.
The Telegraph headline was later changed to “Revealed: Seymour Hoffman’s last hours,” the Guardian reported.
iMediaEthics asked News Corp. Australia for confirmation the headline faux-pas was real and for comment about the headline. News Corp. Australia declined to comment to iMediaEthics.
iMediaEthics never saw the headline live; we’ve only seen numerous screenshots on Australian media sites, the Guardian’s website, and Reddit. Many people were commenting critical of the headline beginning on Feb. 2, the day the actor’s death was reported.
One reader, Gary Wright, posted:
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“I find it absolutely outrageous that someone at the Daily Telegraph allowed the ‘…junkie actor dad’ headline to see the light of day.”
“The Daily Telegraph online really outdoes itself with this front page treatment on the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman,” Media Watch wrote.
Media Watch’s Sally Virgoe confirmed to iMediaEthics that she saw the headline live on Feb. 3. mid-day.
Media website mUmBRELLA also called out the “tone” of the headline.
Greenslade commented of the Telegraph’s headline change:
“That’s reader power for you and, it should be said, a good example of editors responding appropriately to feedback (or a backlash – take your choice).”
iMediaEthics has asked the Daily Telegraph for comment on the headline change. We’ve also asked the Australian Press Council if it received any complaints. We’ll update with any response.
UPDATE: 2/5/2014 6:10 PM EST: Australia’s Press Council’s Derek Wilding told iMediaEthics by e-mail that it has received complaints about the headline.
“The Press Council has received complaints about the article you mentioned, and we have been in contact with the publication about it,” he said by e-mail.
CORRECTION - February 4, 2014 09:04 PM
Virgoe saw the headline live on Feb. 3, mid-day, not Feb. 2. We regret the error.