The ethics behind reporting | Editorial

The ethics behind reporting | Editorial

Newsroom takes a look at ethical dilemma in reporting suicides.

  • Friday, September 13, 2019 1:30am
  • Opinion

As journalists we’re sometimes faced with decisions steeped in ethical dilemmas. Last month, our newsroom was left perplexed by such a dilemma.

A public suicide traumatized onlookers in Bellevue. Many onlookers. In a busy part of town.

We learned about it fairly quickly. We did our due diligence to verify the facts of what we had heard. Yes, it was a suicide.

In keeping with a policy held by many newspapers, we moved on, opting to not write a story. We don’t write news stories about suicides when we know they’re suicides.

Still, calls and emails came in from readers wondering why they hadn’t read any news about the death in our sister newspaper, the Bellevue Reporter (or other media).

It’s not an easy decision to opt for a lack of coverage. Our basic instincts as journalists dictate that we report on news when news comes up. It’s a simple instinct, but at times the situation is a little more nuanced than that.

Minor victims and suspects get different coverage and considerations than adults. Suicides are treated differently than homicides.

We took time last week to have an ethics conversation about the public death with all of our newsroom staff.

Certainly we had covered suicides or might consider covering suicides, so what would be different in those cases?

We decided trends in suicides might drive coverage, however we’d be covering the trend of multiple suicides rather than a single death.

The death of a notable public figure often would generate news as well. In that coverage, we’d likely focus on the life of the individual rather than spend several inches on the person’s death, whatever the cause of death might have been.

We covered a memorial at a high school for the death of a student, and we made it a point to focus on the memorial and the parent’s focus on bullying prevention.

In the past, too, we’ve covered suicides that were not determined to be suicides until a day or days after the initial news broke.

In our newsroom discussion we also questioned what would happen if we covered the public death.

The victim would not be alive if we ran a story about the incident.

The witnesses would not see their trauma go away simply because we ran a story about the incident. In fact, it might cause them to relive the trauma.

The family’s privacy would be jeopardized and they also potentially could be made to relive the trauma through our coverage.

The public was not in danger if we didn’t cover it. There was no ongoing threat.

Then, consideration was given to the potential of igniting modeling behavior in others. It’s not guaranteed, and I’m not sure I personally believe media coverage encourages others to follow, but I’m not sure it sometimes doesn’t.

Finally, our reporters are subjected to secondary and third-hand trauma frequently. A suicide story doesn’t have to contribute to that.

There was more than one suicide in our coverage area recently. We stayed true to our policy and didn’t report on any of them.

We hope our policy is reasonable, and we hope you stay safe and support each other in times of need or distress.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours every day by phone at 1-800-273-8255. An online chat system also is available at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.

Corey Morris is the regional editor of the Issaquah Reporter.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@issaquahreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.issaquahreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Opinion

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Not much changed from what we knew on election night | Roegner

This column was due before the election was certified. However, not much… Continue reading

William Shaw is General Manager of the Issaquah Reporter and Snoqualmie Valley Record. Contact: wshaw@soundpublishing.com.
Let us give wings to nonprofits and charities in Issaquah and beyond | William Shaw

COVID-19 and the delta variant continue to cast awful shadows on our… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Public safety takes centerstage in local elections | Roegner

In Seattle and most suburban cities, the overwhelming message was that the… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Washington’s secretary of state leaves big shoes to fill | Roegner

Secretary of State Kim Wyman recently announced she will leave her state… Continue reading

Dr. Jayendrina Singha Ray serves as Faculty of English at Highline College. Her research interests include postcolonial studies, spatial literary studies, British literature, and rhetoric and composition. Prior to teaching in the U.S., she worked as an editor with Routledge and taught English at colleges in India.
What the Afghan wants to say: A story of resettlement | Guest column

The wind is strong. It carries the colored leaves of fall to… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
The rest of the story: Sound Transit, Rolovich and Lambert | Roegner

All of the reporters I know are ethical and trustworthy. But I… Continue reading

Guest column: Medicare Advantage helps patients recover

By David Hall, The Transplant Recipients International Organization Northwest Undergoing surgery is… Continue reading

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
When it comes to power, Washington may be falling behind | Brunell

For years, Washington state masked its high business and regulatory costs with… Continue reading

tsr
Domestic violence victims need more housing options

Column: As a result of stay-at-home measures from the pandemic, domestic violence rates have worsened in King County.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Why should the threat to Taiwan concern us in WA? | Brunell

Unfortunately, what happens in Taiwan doesn’t just stay in Taiwan — it… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Election 2021: Closer look at King County races | Roegner

The race for Mayor of Seattle will dominate the regional media, but… Continue reading

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Our economy works when consumers pick winners | Brunell

Poland and America are like two trains passing each other in opposite… Continue reading