Public Editor

Should suicide be covered as news?

An email message I received yesterday posed a type of question I hear frequently.

“I didn't see anything news related to a body that was removed from (a Northland apartment complex) yesterday,” it said. “Just curious if it was a homicide or suicide.”

The Star’s policy is to report on all homicides, but the Metro desk tells me they didn’t get any reports matching this location and time. That means it’s likely the death was from another cause.

According to the CDC, diseases are far and away the most common cause of death in the U.S.

The only non-disease causes in the top 10 are accidents and suicide.

Of course, people are by nature curious about suicides. Sometimes it’s out of empathy, and sometimes the interest is pure curiosity (and that’s not a judgment — we’re all prone to at least some of that impulse).

I agree with The Star’s general policy, which is to cover suicides only when they involve public figures, or when there are extremely unusual circumstances, such as occurring in a public place. They’re generally intensely private matters, and have little impact individually on the greater public good.

That’s not to say that the topic of suicide isn’t worth covering, though. I have read a lot of good journalism about people who have triumphed over suicidal thoughts, or who have been driven to combat suicide after losing a loved one. In those contexts, it can be important to tell the stories of people who have killed themselves. But that doesn’t mean each suicide is newsworthy in and of itself at the time.