Wick Communications

Covering suicide in 2015

In journalism on 3 Apr 2015 at 9:01 am

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When it comes out in May, the new AP Stylebook will feature a new entry pertaining to the coverage of suicides. This is a very serious and touchy subject that comes up again and again in our business.

Here’s the new AP rule relating to suicide:

Generally, AP does not cover suicides or suicide attempts, unless the person involved is a well-known figure or the circumstances are particularly unusual or publicly disruptive. Suicide stories, when written, should not go into detail on methods used.

Avoid using “committed suicide” except in direct quotations from authorities. Alternate phrases include killed himself, took her own life or died by suicide. The verb commit with suicide can imply a criminal act. Laws against suicide have been repealed in the United States and many other places.

Do not refer to an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Refer instead to an attempted suicide. …

Medically assisted suicide is permitted in some states and countries. Advocacy groups call it death with dignity, but AP doesn’t use that phrase on its own. When referring to legislation whose name includes death with dignity or similar terms, just say the law allows the terminally ill to end their own lives unless the name itself of the legislation is at issue.

There is a lot here to unpack and I agree with the philosophy espoused by the AP. To begin with, I would strongly suggest that coverage of suicides be limited to public figures or when, as the AP says, “circumstances are particularly unusual or publicly disruptive.” For instance, we at the Half Moon Bay would probably not cover a suicide that occurred in a private home. But if someone were to take his life on an area beach, where bystanders would happen upon the scene and naturally wonder what happened, we have an obligation to report the facts.

Some of the parsing of words with respect to “unsuccessful” attempts and “committing” suicide may seem overly nuanced, but I understand the distinctions and I think you should work to understand them as well.

Covering suicides is one of the hardest things any journalist can do. We owe it to all involved to give the proper thought to this particular question.




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