Was Broadchurch Echo editor Maggie right to spike suicide attempt story?

The symbolism couldn’t have been clearer.

Looking over her breathtakingly beautiful patch, indefatigable editor Maggie Radcliffe stood several feet higher up the slope than her new cold-hearted cliche boss.

She had both high grounds – real and moral – as she told newspaper company manager Caroline Hughes: “Screw you, petal.”

Apparently this is what they say in America at such times.

The final straw for Maggie – who’d already lost her office, her reporter and her power to decide the splash – was Caroline’s insistence that the Broadchurch Echo cover bereaved dad Mark Latimer’s suicide attempt.

Maggie had already told Mark’s wife Beth that she wouldn’t be covering what she felt was a very private near-tragedy.

And she stuck to her guns in her clifftop confrontation with management – telling her boss that she was firing her from her life.

None of this really happened, of course.

It’s a TV drama, albeit one which has half the nation on the edge of their seats.

And one which seems to have felt the pulse of the regional newspaper industry, complete with its daily moral dilemmas.

So was Maggie right?

It’s a good question, as you’d expect from one of our country’s top political writers. Tom Peck is real, by the way.

But he seemed to be in a minority, at least on Twitter.

I’ve never made a secret of my admiration for Maggie, or of my certainty that local editors such as her are vitally needed.

So it won’t be a surprise to hear that I’m on her side this time, too.

For an ethical journalist, covering suicides – and attempted suicides – is about as difficult as it gets.

How do you navigate your way through the moral maze of a private tragedy that might – in the case of a motorway incident – be seen by thousands of people, or – in the case of someone who hangs himself because he’s being hounded by debt-collectors – raise issues of proper public interest? Which of these deaths – or near-deaths – justifies the unforgiving spotlight of publicity?

We are lucky enough to have one of Britain’s finest voluntary organisations, The Samaritans, to help us here, with its media guidelines.

But in the end, the real decision-making comes down to the moral compass of editors. Editors like Maggie.

When there is an actual death, perversely, things are a little easier. There has to be an inquest, which puts matters in the public domain, even if editors rightly choose not to cover most suicide hearings.

But, no matter how well-known Mark Latimer is in his community, no matter how high profile the crime that brought him to the top of that cliff, his was a private horror.

You might be able to justify an anonymised emergency services report.

But in the absence of his and his family’s co-operation, I wouldn’t have named him.

There’s a question I used to ask myself on such occasions: What good will come of this?

The answer, to me, is as clear as the water off West Bay.





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