Wick Communications

Telling the story

In Writing techniques on September 13, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Capital Journal Editor Lance Nixon wrote a gem last week and I wanted to point out that good work here.

It’s the story of Brian Feddersen, a young man who committed suicide a year ago. And the emphasis is on the word story. Lance tells us Feddersen was a Detroit Lions fan, that he “wrestled calves and caught bull snakes.” He also tells us that the 23-year-old Murdo, S.D., resident struggled with schizophrenia.

We all know that suicide is a difficult topic. My personal view – by no means the definitive word – is that we rarely cover suicide unless the event is public in some way. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of the topic generally. (For a more full look at covering the actual event of suicide, look here.)

Lance used the occasion of an upcoming walk aimed at raising awareness of the problem to revisit Feddersen’s family a year after his death. He found a mother who very much wanted to talk about the issue.

“She’s very open and she’s making something good out of something painful,” Lance told me when I called to congratulate him on his story. “It’s part of this process … she wants to make Brian’s death matter to people in our region. People want to talk about these things.” …

That is so true. I am forever amazed at the personal things people will divulge to an empathetic, professional reporter when the time is right.

One more thing that Lance did very well: He put Feddersen’s death into context. He notes that South Dakota has an outsized problem with suicide. From the story:

For nine of the 11 years from 2000 to 2010, suicide was one of the top 10 causes of death in South Dakota, and it actually rose from the tenth-leading cause of death early in the century to the ninth-leading cause after 2004. There were 139 cases of suicide in 2010 – the most the state has seen since the new century began.

The numbers for 2011 are not yet available, but some of the common denominators are clear from the data about suicide.

“Seventy to 90 percent of suicides are completed by someone with mental illness, and that’s the case with Brian,” Judy Feddersen said.

The wider lesson for us is this: Tell a personal story and then generalize from that specific. Bring a personal story home for all of us and you have really got something. Thanks, Lance.

Clay

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