AddThis SmartLayers

Ex-editor warns against ‘easy pickings’ for journalists reporting suicides

Richard Bowyer 1A former regional daily editor has urged journalists to take care over how they report social media reaction to suicides.

Richard Bowyer, left, who edited Stoke daily The Sentinel, says that much of what is written on websites such as Facebook or Twitter following the deaths of teenagers “almost glamorises suicide”, and that such responses can provide “easy pickings” for journalists covering such tragedies.

Richard, now a senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Derby, has written about the debate around suicide reporting on his personal blog.

It follows a conference held at the on the subject last week, which was organised by the university’s head of journalism Keith Perch, himself the former editor of the Derby Telegraph, Leicester Mercury and South Wales Echo.

The conference was attended by around 30 editors from Trinity Mirror and Johnston Press newspapers, as well as representatives from charity The Samaritans and the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Richard  said that a number of editors at the conference had talked about the pressure of fulfilling their requirements to get an audience, which led to them having to make “difficult decisions about pushing the boundaries” to maximise page views online

On his blog, Richard wrote: “One of the growing issues today is the response on social media to suicides, particularly the death of a teenager. It is all too easy to lift the social media quotes and build a story around that.

“How often do you see words like ‘another angel in heaven’ followed by ‘we’ll be with you in heaven soon.’ The sentiment that someone will join their friend in heaven soon shouldn’t be taken literally, but often impressionable children may just do that. Also, a lot of social media almost glamorises suicide, this is a long distance from the reality.

“The response on sites such as Facebook look easy pickings for journalists attempting to get a reaction to the death, but the media has to be careful how it uses this information and reflects the outpouring of grief.”

“Simple phrases like ‘another angel in heaven’ pulls on the heart-strings and can entice vulnerable people to believe that suicide, wrongly, has some sort of romance about it. It hasn’t.”