Seares: Covering suicides: no taboo, just caution | SunStar

Seares: Covering suicides: no taboo, just caution

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Seares: Covering suicides: no taboo, just caution

Friday, July 14, 2017

Poynter advises reporter and editor to keep this question in mind: Would public interest be served by the publicity?

CEBU media may have covered fewer suicides than the actual number of incidents. Basing on 2012 figures, seven Filipinos kill themselves each day or one every 3 1/2 hours. While it’s a national stat, it gives an idea of the problem’s extent in many places in the country. With only a few ever landing in the news.

The reason for the under-coverage of suicides is the rule of thumb in most newsrooms: no suicide story unless “it serves a public purpose or is of significant public interest.”

Such as when the story tends to prevent future suicides by educating families and friends on indications of a potential self-killing. Or when it may lead to a prevention program by authorities and other entities concerned.

Live on Facebook

The live-streaming on Facebook Live of a video by a college student, 21, as she hanged herself last July 3 in the family living room in Bry. Kamputhaw, Cebu City is one such story.

As as far as most people know, it was the first suicide in Cebu ever so recorded and broadcast and in real time. Other suicides, many of them at the Mactan-Mandaue Bridge, had only still photos of the bridge, after the event.

The front-page banner treatment of the Kamputhaw incident in “Cebu Daily News” of July 4, saw the novelty of the story. And apparently more: it recognized the problem of suicides and the use of social media to publicize it.

Effects of publicity

The story may help warn families with a mentally ill member. No public record of Kamputhaw woman’s state of mind but, as Poynter notes in an article on suicides, “mental illness is almost always present in every suicide,” Publicizing it may also prod Facebook what measure it can adopt to prevent, or speed up response to, that kind of emergency.

Don’ts from Poynter, the journalism institute, include not to “sensationalize, glamorize or trivialize.” And, as much as possible, the story shouldn’t intrude into privacy and balance any invasion with public interest.

How that is interpreted depends ultimately on how the editor will handle the story. The reporter gathers the facts and writes the news. But his news editor or news director decides on final content and display, if it is used at all.

Method, location

Poynter’s caution includes leaving out details otherwise allowed in homicide or murder stories. How about the location or method used by the victim?

Disclosure may inspire copycats. Specifics on where and how may be omitted unless they can help the government and other affected agencies to act on the problem. The Mactan-Mandaue bridge, once the favorite of leapers to their death, had to be mentioned. Which resulted in public good: Capitol thought of ways to discourage suicides there, including the putting up of barriers at choice suicide spots.

In sum, it all depends on the handling of the story, which may be guided by the editor’s self-questioning: What would the public gain from the story other than media’s own interest?

•••

Fewer briefings, off camera in White House

THE office of the press secretary has reduced media briefings at the White House -- which U.S. President Trump earlier said he might even cancel – and lately switched off cameras during the session.

No video record, just the audio. So when the briefing is aired on TV or cable, one sees file clips as the Q&A goes on.

The reason, Dana Milbank, a Washington Post opinion writer says, is that Press Secretary Sean Spicer and, now doing it more often, his associate, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, don’t know what to tell the press. And it’s graphically publicized if the cams are on.

Spicer or Sanders would say, “I’m not sure. I’ll check and get back to you.” Or variations of the same excuse: “I haven’t asked.” “I didn’t have a conversation.”

An ABC News reporter published a list of 26 times last June when Spicer and Sanders used the excuse.

The person they hadn’t talked with is their boss Trump whose tweets -- ranging “from the inexplicable to the patently wrong,” “the reckless and the nonsense” -- have made the job of the publicists and the media they deal with triply tough.

The White House reporters though make sure the publicists know the reporters know about the b.s. and keep pestering them with tough questions.

Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on July 15, 2017.

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