A short article run in The Chronicle at Duke University earlier this month about a student’s attempted suicide has spurred vicious criticism on campus and even a poster campaign calling for the editor in chief’s resignation.
Via College Rag, critics’ two main points of contention: The article effectively identifies the student involved (by naming his dorm and gender, leaving an easy-to-follow gossip trail); and the incident is only slightly newsworthy at best (since it concerns a private citizen carrying out an essentially private act).
A letter to the editor from a former Chronicle editor asked:
What, exactly, was the point of running that story? The student was apparently not charged with a crime, nor does the attempt appear to have had newsworthy ripple effects beyond the predictable gossiping about it. Lest you think that suicide attempts are inherently newsworthy, please ask yourself when you last saw a major newspaper run an article about the suicide attempt of a non-public figure.
Last week, angry students peppered Duke’s campus with posters adorned with similar complaints and unflattering photos or faux-photos (it’s not clear which) of the newspaper’s editor in chief.
The story and reader reaction highlight the journalistic difficulty of dealing with suicide and attempted suicide. Do I think an incident that brings police and EMS to a campus dorm late at night deserves coverage? Yes, I do. If I was a student living in the dorm, I would be interested to know why sirens were blaring outside my window and I think it is important to hear from authorities instead of just hall gossips. Should the story’s reporting have been more general, avoiding references to the student’s gender and the specific nature of the incident (including labeling it an attempted suicide, a term whose connotation runs far deeper than its literal law enforcement meaning)? In my opinion, again, yes.
What do you think?
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