Franklin James Cook

Major Local Newspaper Says “No” to Webcam Suicide Story

In Media, Postvention, Prevention on November 30, 2008 at 1:58 pm
Earl Maucker

Earl Maucker

ORIGINAL COLUMN — The editor of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, in an “Ask the Editor” column, gives an extensive reply to a reader, explaining why the Sun-Sentinel did not join the media feeding frenzy that followed the recent suicide of a Florida teen that was broadcast via the Internet (see the previous posts on SPNAC, Publicized Suicide Angers Family, May Harm Others” and “Expert Points To Ambivalence in Suicide Aired on Web“).

Editor Earl Maucker’s reply is remarkable not only for its thoughtfulness but also because it tells the story in some detail of a newsroom decision-making process that ends with public safety being taken into account in an extraordinary way:

“It was obvious the story would be interesting, and we wondered if it was the first time someone had live-streamed a suicide,” [said Metro Editor Dana Banker]. “At the same time, we wanted to work out some key questions before publication: Should we reconsider our traditional policies on suicide in this case? How public was this man’s death? How many people saw it?”

Most importantly, she said, she wondered what public value we could bring to our reporting and would that outweigh the risk of encouraging copycat suicides, particularly considering that suicide is the leading cause of death among young people who make up a large share of our web audience?

“With the video not widely viewed, we decided that what we had was a sensational story with limited public value that ran the risk of encouraging a troubled young person to do the same,” Dana said. “We opted not to run the story Thursday afternoon [the afternoon the story was breaking nationally].”

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