Newspaper sets dangerous precedent by reporting on staffer’s suicide

There’s a reason why many, if not most, mainstream media outlets generally haven’t reported on suicides in the past: quite simply, they didn’t want to give other people the idea.

But as the media has eased up a little bit on that rule in the past four or five years by reporting on LGBT kids and others, particularly aboriginal youth, who have killed themselves for various reasons, we are seeing a spike in such suicides among youth.

No surprise: kids hear/read the reports and see the resulting outcry, and feel those who killed themselves accomplished something with their deaths by raising awareness about bullying or gender issues or hopeless living conditions etc. Some kids, sadly, may see suicide as a heroic act.

And sure, their deaths do generate news reports, outrage, sadness and discussion. We may even hold candlelight vigils for the deceased. But ultimately, what good does all of that do for the dead kids? None . . .  Surely they could have done more if they had stayed alive and become advocates. And maybe they would have stayed alive if the media had not reported on the suicides of others. Maybe that one headline in a local paper about a kid who killed himself was the tipping point for another kid struggling with complex issues.

I wouldn’t want to be the editor who wrote that headline . . .

The media reached another low this week with the reporting of a suicide, this time one of their own, who passed late last month. The Toronto Star tried very hard not to report on the death of their reporter, Raveena Aulakh, who left a note asking her paper not to write about it. They honoured that wish, and they also stuck to the principle of not reporting suicides. Indeed, if they felt they shouldn’t report the suicides of other people, why should they report the suicide of one of their own, no matter the circumstances?

Unfortunately, details were leaked to alternative media outlets with lower standards, run by people behind keyboards who didn’t appear to care if the suicide of Raveena might inspire other people whose hearts have been broken in romance to kill themselves. The salacious — albeit speculative — click bait details may have been too much for them to resist, and they created a social media storm. And “a private tragedy became a public spectacle,” as the Star’s Public Editor, Kathy English, wrote in a piece that dealt with the circumstances surrounding Raveena’s death.

The article was written grudgingly. The Star wanted to keep it private, and made a valiant effort to do so. But they finally caved to the pressure of the keyboard Twitterites and the Facebook crowd, and many other mainstream media outlets soon followed suit — reporting not so much on Raveena’s death, but on the controversy surrounding it and the Star’s predicament, but still, sadly, publicizing the suicide (as I suppose I am doing now in this blog post).

I’m probably one of the last who feels the Toronto Star shouldn’t have divulged as much information as it finally did. I feel they should have merely run a small item saying Raveena had passed on, without giving any more details, thereby respecting her wishes and sticking to their own principle on not reporting suicides.

As for the romantic details: the only public interest served by revealing them was that of a salacious, voyeuristic nature. Indeed, one wonders if the two managers who lost their jobs have grounds for a lawsuit because of the private details that were revealed. After all, whatever romantic dalliances occurred were between consenting adults. They didn’t do anything illegal. It’s nobody else’s business.

But there may be an even more serious consequence to the Star caving to social media pressure: will they inspire some other spurned man or woman to commit suicide, leaving a tell-all note — perhaps a complete fabrication — for the media? Certainly, if they direct it to certain alternative media outlets, it is more likely to get publicity now than ever before.

Let’s be honest: heartbroken people have been jumping off proverbial cliffs for thousands of years. The general public hasn’t been hearing about most of them, unless they involved murder-suicides — and there are a disturbing number of them, especially in the United States, as publicity seems to inspire copycat crimes.

But the death of Raveena was the seemingly-irrational act of one person, and if she hadn’t been part of the media and instead was, say, a cashier in a supermarket who killed herself after an affair with a coworker ended, no mainstream media outlet would have even considered running the story.

Sadly, I think you can now count on someone copying Raveena’s actions in the hopes that it will raise an outcry in social media and get mainstream media attention — and maybe that’s why Raveena didn’t want her death to be reported. Maybe she didn’t want to give anybody else the same idea. Maybe she didn’t want to glorify her decision to end her life.

And it was her decision, whether you agree with it or not.

— Jillian

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