Feb 052006

Your front-page story about the death of Charles Pollet ("Man shot was a 'perfect neighbor'") was dangerous and misleading.

According to the American Association of Suicidology (AAS), reporting suicide in the media can result in copycat suicides.

Not only was your front-page article dangerous because of the risk of a copycat effect, but it was misleading about the predictability of suicide. Your story suggests, via quotes from shocked acquaintances, there was no way to predict Mr. Pollet's suicidal behavior. However,

"Most suicidal individuals give definite warning signs of their suicidal intentions but others are either unaware of these warning signs or do not know how to respond to them"(www.suicidology.org)

Even if Mr. Pollet was an unusual case and showed no warning signs, your failure to highlight the fact that most suicidal people do show warning signs does a disservice to your readers. It gives them the impression that suicide is unpredictable and cannot be detected by the suicidal person's community.

Suicide is newsworthy and should be reported. At the same time, suicide is also a preventable public health problem that is a leading cause of death in the United States. Media coverage of a suicide should include information about what the public can do to prevent the occurrence of future deaths.

Unfortunately, you did not take advantage of an opportunity to educate people and instead, wasted space by providing your readers with sensationalistic descriptions of weaponry.

Next time you decide to run a suicide story, I suggest you go to the AAS Web site and read the media guidelines about how to report suicide. In the future, I hope you cover suicide more responsibly.

Phillip Tatum

graduate student

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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