The man jumped off the bridge on Aug. 2. He drove his car to the side of eastbound Interstate 240 and leaped to his death, landing on Emma Road below, according to police. Should Xpress have published news of the incident with his name?
We’ve been wrestling with this question for a couple of days. For many years, newspapers have declined to publish the names of most suicide victims. Why is that? Edward Wasserman discussed the issue in a blog last year, and what he says here, I think is particularly appropriate:
For the journalist a suicide story is always trouble. That’s partly because it’s painful and intrusive. And it’s partly because there’s an irreducible mystery at its core — why? — and the only person who might unlock that mystery, if questioned skillfully enough, is gone.
So you turn to the survivors. And while a reporter normally believes that with proximity comes credibility, that the nearer people are to the news the more valuable they are as sources, that’s often untrue — especially with suicides: The closer people are, the more damaged, baffled, guilt-ridden, emotionally invested, and problematic they’re likely to be as sources.
So the media steer clear. Although suicides claim twice as many lives as murders do, only three types generally make the news: those that take place in public, involve public figures — or exemplify some larger social problem.
That was one staffer’s criteria for publication: Does the man’s death have a greater context? Social relevance? Something beyond a sordid headline?
Our goal is to encourage thoughtful community dialogue. Is it somehow disrespectful to print this man’s name?
Another staffer argued it was more respectful to publish it than not. Why deny the person his identity in death? How is a suicide different than a homicide? It was a drastic measure, yes, but there isn’t shame in it, per se. Why should the subject, or the man’s name, be taboo? We shouldn’t be complicit in this culture of shame, that shouldn’t be the case, he argued.
Another point to consider: In this era of social media, everyone’s a publisher. We’re not gatekeepers, and most anyone could get the police report, which includes the deceased’s name. So whether we opt to publish the name or not, it’s available and easily disseminated. So, should we?
What do you think?