Last week Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. What’s the appropriate way for the news media to cover a suicide? Missouri School of Journalism professors Judd Slivka, Mike McKean and Amy Simons discuss the issue on KBIA-FM's media criticism program, "Views of the News."
Just before the incident, Schweich left a voicemail for St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Page Editor, Tony Messenger. Messenger later released the audio recording.
There are some times when journalists will go to great lengths to protect their sources, in some cases, going to jail. Simons pointed out this case is different, though, because Schweich was dead. She said Messenger was carrying out what he believed would have been the auditor's wishes. Slivka agreed, saying he thought the type of information Messenger shared was for the greater good.
Journalists don't normally cover suicides. McKean said that is because of the fear someone might see it as an opportunity to capture their own "fifteen minutes of fame." Schweich's case was an exception. McKean said there several criteria that can make a suicide newsworthy -- and this case met those standards.
McKean thought it might be good for journalists to do more in-depth reporting on what people do and do not know about suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, they said that suicide is not a normal response and suicide almost always results from the pain and desperation from mental illness. McKean stated that the media needs to stop drawing a line between how bad politics has become and suicide.