When experts cautioned CBC journalists against airing a story on subway suicide, Ioanna Roumeliotis and her team had to decide if the value of the story outweighed the potential risks involved.
Case Study by Maya Abramson and Julia Candido
In 2017, 27-year-old Michael Padbury died by suicide after jumping into the path of a subway train in Toronto. The Toronto Transit Commission had a long-standing policy of not discussing suicide publicly. However, this incident was a turning point that led the TTC to break its silence surrounding subway suicides.
Ioanna Roumeliotis is a senior journalist for CBC national news. She came across the TTC’s change in policy in August 2018, when a man was pushed in front of a subway train. Roumeliotis was covering this incident as a news story. The TTC’s communications team told her that this sort of incident was very uncommon, but they had much larger concerns about TTC suicides. They also said that, in grappling with these deaths, they were ready to talk more openly about suicide.
At the time, John O’Grady served as chief safety officer for the TTC. Roumeliotis asked O’Grady for a meeting which happened in March 2019. That initial conversation involved Roumeliotis, her producer, Melissa Mancini, and O’ Grady. They talked for two hours with no cameras. These conversations went on for many weeks until O’Grady and the TTC agreed to give the CBC team unprecedented access to materials and footage to talk about suicide on the tracks. They also had long discussions about how to frame a story concerning suicide in a responsible way with a shared ultimate goal of decreasing suicide on the TTC.
Roumeliotis wanted to tell this story., but she knew it would be tough to tell well. Reporting on suicide responsibly would involve careful consideration, discussions with experts, and, in the end, a delicate decision about risk.