Another element of suicide coverage for the CBC newsroom to consider was whether or not this story would be sensationalizing or romanticizing the topic of suicide in any way. Suicide reporting guides are clear that essentially glorifying these deaths runs the risk that a person in distress might relate and decide to move forward.1“A Quick Guide to Recommendations for Responsible Media Reporting on Suicide Events,” Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, https://sunnybrook.ca/content/?page=psychiatry-guidelines-reporting-suicide-media
The CBC’s own Journalistic Standards and Practices state: “We are sensitive in our handling of suicides, suicide attempts and desperate acts. In particular, we avoid describing the act in detail or illustrating the method, and we consider the risk of glorifying this behaviour or of influencing vulnerable people.”2Journalistic Standards and Practices,” CBC Radio- Canada, https://cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/vision/governance/journalistic-standards-and-practices
“Media reporting can lead to copycats if it is talking about suicide in a very specific way,” says Sinyor. “The specific way is when a very identifiable person is presented dying by suicide and that is presented as inevitable, or heaven forbid desirable.”
As an example, he cites an increase in suicide deaths after the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why was released in 2017. Sinyor says that the show portrayed the main character’s suicide as a means for her to get revenge on the people who had wronged her, without contextualizing it as a larger mental health issue. The show graphically presented suicide as a means to an end, Sinyor says. Despite the fact that this example is a work of fiction, not journalism, youth suicide rose in the United States and Canada after the show’s release.
To avoid this risk, some experts have advocated for only telling stories of survival from suicide attempts, rather than actual deaths. However, this presents an issue from a journalistic perspective, where stories need to be made interesting and relevant to an audience. Lonsdale thinks that stories of survival alone are not enough to get the public to think more deeply about issues of suicide.
Watch Cliff Lonsdale discuss how stories of survival are not enough:
This presents a clear issue for journalists. Sinyor says that an additional complication comes from the fact that often, the stories that are the most compelling in the area of suicide are also the ones you need to be most careful with.
“It’s always also a tricky situation, because often the things that journalists want to share, or that might maybe interest some people in the public, are also the most dangerous ones,” he said.
Next: 5. Turning to Experts: An Abundance of Caution
|￪1||“A Quick Guide to Recommendations for Responsible Media Reporting on Suicide Events,” Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, https://sunnybrook.ca/content/?page=psychiatry-guidelines-reporting-suicide-media|
|￪2||Journalistic Standards and Practices,” CBC Radio- Canada, https://cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/vision/governance/journalistic-standards-and-practices|