Raleigh, NC-based Kaiser Health News reporter, a lesson, while covering the case of suicide, wording and framing Aneri Pattani This was evidently revealed when suicide researchers criticized him for how he wrote the suicide story.
“I was called on words: ‘suicide’ versus ‘died by suicide,'” said Pattani, a Northeastern University journalism graduate whose Hopkins’ Master of Public Health Studies focuses on children and adolescents.
“Preparing it,” said Pattani, “as another crime article was a problem. What I’ve tried to do is to look at it as a public health issue, reporting on the person, but behind Diverting and diving more into context. Talking about not just how many deaths happen nationally, but also how many people attempt suicide and survive. What warning signs can the public be on the lookout for? and Are there treatment options?”
To help sharpen her skills and learn how to avoid these kinds of mistakes, she enrolled part-time last year at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. (See AHCJ’s new tip sheet for more information on covering suicide.)
Pattani also created the curriculum,”Responsible reporting on suicide for journalists.” Bloomberg and Johns Hopkins Medical School professor Holly Wilcox, She teaches free online classes with Wilcox and Bloomberg Professor Emeritus William Eaton,
Here is a brief rundown of his conversion with AHCJ about a free suicide course for journalists. ,This discussion has been edited for clarity and brevity,
What is the overarching goal of this course?
These are guidelines that apply to daily reporting of suicide. How to choose the right b-roll, the right music (if you’re using music), and how to advocate with your editor about why certain language is important.
Share how you came to know about a particular suicide story,
At the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, three students died by suicide, two of them in a single weekend. It was a difficult time, with a lot of coverage of suicides – some of it was done responsibly, some of it relatable. I wrote about postvention and what campuses can do. What does the research say about what you should do after a death to help prevent contagious suicide?
Can you explain what is postvention?
These are the ideas of prevention, intervention and prevention. What can we do to protect those close to death who may be most vulnerable?
This [postvention] It also means that news coverage needs to be clear about the cause of death. Was it a definite suicide? Avoid speculation.
Reporting should inform people about individual or group counseling. Care should be taken to frame monuments and checkpoints in a way that honors the individual but does not glorify suicide. Researchers say you don’t want to make it so that people who might be vulnerable think, “I want someone to hold it” [vigil] or me.”
There’s a fine line between respectful, precise language and euphemisms that potentially destroy journalism,
It is best practice to report suicides as suicides. But, with regard to language, it is not euphemistic to say that a person died by suicide. This is no different from saying that someone has died of cancer, from COVID, or from pneumonia.
But it goes beyond that: Are you completely covered up? For example, ‘This one person died. This is the number of suicides in the district, what steps are being taken here. That’s a different framework.
Some journalists include the method of suicide, but it may provoke people to use the same method.
Are there no instances when the details of the method are important to the story?
I struggle with this. We have to report the details, to provide the public with more details, not less. These are guidelines, not hard and fast rules. That doesn’t mean your story is bad if you include few details, or that you’re going to cause infection.
We enter this profession because we feel that we can shed light on issues and raise our voices… what comes with it is not doing harm.
For more tips on how to cover suicide, check out this new tip sheet.