Reporting Robin: How to cover suicides responsibly

The death of Robin Williams is rightly a huge – and very, very sad – story.

But it raises important questions about how we report suicide.

I think we’re all a great deal wiser, more sensitive and more sensible about this issue.

But the coverage of Williams’s death reminds us that we have a real responsibility to get our tone, information and copytasting spot-on.

Personally, I thought even the detail that Williams hanged himself was a step too far, when he was such a hero and role model to so many people, and particularly so many young people.

There was a good piece in the Guardian on the concern over suicide coverage:

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/aug/13/robin-williams-media-report-suicide

And the Samaritans charity has issued detailed guidance to journalists:

http://tinyurl.com/oyely9m

Interestingly, those guidelines raise no fundamental objection to the use of the words hanging or hanged, so maybe I am being unduly cautious and conservative.

Part of me thinks I would rather err on the side of caution than open myself to criticism that I had inadvertently put the idea of suicide into a vulnerable reader’s mind.

What I’m certain of, though, is that any reporter or news editor dealing with a story about suicide should familiarise themselves with those Samaritans guidelines.

They, after all, are the experts on this, not us.

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One thought on “Reporting Robin: How to cover suicides responsibly

  1. I am a bit old fashioned and agree that we shouldn’t report how someone died by suicide. However social media means anyone can find out at the click of a mouse, so it’s up to us to report it as responsibly as possible. One other point – I don’t think we should use the term “commit suicide”. It’s not been a crime for more than 50 years.

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