New Zealand news outlet Stuff put a headline on a story that didn’t match its contents. The June 30 headline read “Elderly choosing to kill themselves rather than live in aged care facilities.”
A man named Graham Wilkinson, who owns a retirement community and is president of the Retirement Villages Association of New Zealand, complained to the New Zealand Press Council over the headline, which was corrected online three days after publication. Wilkinson pointed out the article reported on a man who died by suicide who had written in a note before death complimentary of the home’s care.
Stuff’s editor Patrick Crewdson declined to comment to iMediaEthics about the ruling.
Wilkinson, the complainant, told iMediaEthics by e-mail he owns and operates “a retirement village and aged care company – five villages. In the USA, these would be called CCRC’s.” He said that New Zealand retirement villages are different from New Zealand aged care complexes (similar to U.S. nursing homes) occasionally get bad press when a small fraction “fail in their governance and standard.”
“There is nothing like a headline ‘old person gets abused,'” Wilkinson wrote. “As a result, when I read the headline and found the story completely at odds with the headline, I wrote and complained.”
Stuff’s Waikato Region Editor, Jonathan MacKenzie, agreed that the headline was inaccurate and told the press council the story was “balanced and sensitive,” and the headline was changed to “Elderly choosing to kill themselves.”
The press council agreed that the headline was wrong and should have been corrected quickly. “No explanation is given as to why it took two days for Stuff to act on a complaint,” the council said. “The Media Council has been concerned for some time that media companies are failing to adequately monitor avenues for complaints and this was clearly a case where it could have acted far more quickly.”
Further, the council argued since the headline wasn’t changed for three days, the article was by then “of diminished interest and fewer people would have been likely to read it, let alone see the correction note at the bottom of the article.”
The council disagreed with Stuff’s MacKenzie that the site took appropriate action, and called for Stuff to apologize to Wilkinson and readers.
For more on best practices on reporting on suicide, read iMediaEthics’ series.