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.”