Reporting a suicide in the media

We’ve had a couple of posts this week on the subject of suicide and over the years, there’ve been plenty on the question of whether and when should the media indicate a suicide is a suicide.

This week, we got a glimpse into what happens when it’s a member of the media who takes his own life.

It happened in Kansas City, when meteorologist Don Harman hanged himself. The station involved asked most of the media in town not to report the death. They didn’t.

Peggy Phillip, a news director at a competing news director writes today:

We talked about how we would proceed, first at our weekly manager meeting and then with all reporters, producers and photographers in our daily editorial meeting. Our sources at the police department confirmed that Harman died by suicide. We did not report Harman’s suicide on our 11 a.m. newscast. Some have criticized this decision. I understand why but I stand by what we (and most of the other newsrooms in Kansas City) did.

Certainly the management at WDAF was in the most difficult position, balancing the public’s right to know with their own significant loss.

And therein lies one of the questions: Should the media treat a story differently because it involves one of their own. Phillip says it wasn’t until 4 or 5 p.m. the next day that her station treated the story as a suicide, and provided more information about suicide in general.

From what she writes today, it was a high-volume discussion.

Read more about it here.

  • John

    I think they did the right thing. Finding out the facts and reporting the correct story is more important than being first. Plus their loss has to be factored in. Who would want to report that story only a few hours after it happened? That would have been awful.

  • Bob Collins

    //Finding out the facts and reporting the correct story is more important than being first.

    True enough. But that’s not the reason they held the story.