AP: Suicide isn’t news unless you’re famous

The Associated Press stylebook, the bible of newswriting, is announcing several changes and additions this week at a convention of copy editors.

Most of them are of little consequence; you can now write BLT on first reference in a news story, for example.

But the AP’s directive on suicide is another matter altogether. In its newest update, the AP has decided to keep it under the covers, according to the industry organization, Poynter.

Here’s the new stylebook entry:

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 Laws against suicide have been repealed in the United States and many other places.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.

The banning of the phrase “committed suicide” is a nod to those who feel the use of the word “committed” criminalizes the act. Proponents of the revised language have long argued that one commits murder or commits fraud, but one does not commit suicide.

Fair enough.

But the policy of not covering suicides codifies an ongoing and puzzling refusal by news media to deal with suicide as a health and education issue in the belief that to mention a suicide, the second-leading cause of death of Minnesota young people, is to encourage more suicides.

In fact, those involved with suicide prevention are concerned mostly with glamorizing it, an easily avoidable situation for a newswriter, especially if the alternative is to pretend that suicides only happen to famous people, an absurd notion that suggests that suicide is largely an issue for the entertainment industry.

It isn’t, obviously.

Paul Holt, 36, of Minneapolis, took his own life last Tuesday and the odds are you didn’t hear about it unless you’re a reader of obituaries. His family tenderly told his story in Sunday’s Star Tribune notice.

Holt, Paul Matthew age 36, of Minneapolis, took his life on May 19th, 2015, after courageously battling depression for fifteen years. He is survived by parents Bradley and Linda Holt, brother Olaf (Christy) Hall-Holt, sister Karin (Mark) Holt Raugas, nieces Viveka and Annelise, and beloved extended family. He was a friend to many. Though Paul himself felt walled off from joy and hope, he managed to consistently extend those blessings to others. Paul studied mathematics at Williams College, championed environmental causes, read weekly for the blind, and advocated for bicycle safety in the Twin Cities. Service will be 11:00 AM Thursday at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, 3045 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis. Visitation Wednesday from 5 PM until a time of sharing at 7 PM at Morris Nilsen Chapel, 6527 Portland Ave. S, Richfield and one hour prior to the service at church. Morris Nilsen Chapel 612-869-3226 www.morrisnilsen.com

It’s clear Mr. Holt was somebody special and acknowledging the manner of his death should provide the rest of us with an opportunity to discuss important health issues like depression and mental illness and what the world loses when intelligent and valuable people reach the point of despair when suicide seems a logical alternative to the pain.

Maybe it even motivates us to care enough to consider ways to alleviate such human suffering.