The suicide peg

Jeff Jarvis, the media commentator, drops the suicide version of “guns don’t kill people” in assessing the role of the Internet in the death of a Rutgers University student. He says CBS’ Katie Couric tried to get an answer out of him that blamed the sins of the Internet for the young man’s suicide.

We can’t pretend to give young people lessons in the Internet if we don’t understand how they see it. For example, I’ve learned lately that young people use Facebook’s Wall to hold conversations in public while people my age use it — with media reflex — as a place to publish or broadcast. Same platform, different uses, different worldviews, different impact. When I was in Berlin talking about publicness and privacy, Renate Künast, head of the Greens in Parliament, said she talked to a young person who took a cooking course instead of an a computer course because in the latter “what the teachers wanted to teach me was something I learned five years ago.” We have things to learn from children about the future, for the future is theirs and they’re building it right in front of us.

We’ve reached the part of the story, frankly, when news anchors and editors are looking for angles to keep it going. So far, there’s the issue of bullying, there’s the issue of whether gay teens are more likely to commit suicide, and there’s the issue of the Internet.

This is part of the “peg” problem with journalism. In order to do a story about something, it must have a “peg,” an event to tie it to.

Suicide has been the second-leading cause of death of Minnesota young people for years. The “peg” in Minnesota for teen suicide stories recently is that 4 of 7 students in the Anoka-Hennepin school district who killed themselves may have been gay.

The issue should have had more attention years ago. Bring up the closeted issue of suicide in area high schools, and most every student knows of someone who’s killed himself or herself. Read the obituary page, scan to the death of a teenager, and read between the lines.

That would be a good peg for keeping the story going until officials aren’t quite so afraid to discuss it.