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Ohio agencies build web portal for journalists who cover suicide

Jun 13, 2017

Ohio agencies build web portal for journalists who cover suicide

ATHENS, Ohio (June 13, 2017)—U.S. suicide rates have increased in nearly every age and demographic category in the past 15 years, which means journalists should use best practices for reporting on it.

Three Ohio agencies have collaborated to build a destination web portal to guide journalists as they write stories, interact with survivors and educate others about this public health issue. The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services administered the grant that allowed Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University to develop the content.

“We know that one of the most powerful weapons we can use to decrease the number of suicides in our country is a direct conversation about the problem and what help is available to those who are at risk,” said John Ackerman, clinical psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and suicide prevention coordinator at the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research.

The web portal includes guidelines for reporting about suicide from news and social media perspectives, examples of good and bad reporting about suicide, research about how journalism affects suicide contagion, ethical dissections of two local stories about suicide, a suicide reporting checklist and more. The URL is www.mha.ohio.gov/suicidereporting.

“The media are the eyes and ears of our communities, and they have the power to color our perspective on any number of issues through their reporting,” said Dese’Rae L. Stage, a consultant for the project and founder of LiveThroughThis.org, a website devoted to telling stories of suicide survivors.

Ohio University journalism professor Nerissa Young said: “Suicide is not a typical spot news or death story, and it shouldn’t be treated like one. In the rush to get information to the public, journalists need one place where they can find ways to make their stories better. That’s the hope of those who developed and collected material for this resource.”

The guidelines were initially distributed via a series of six workshops at Ohio university campuses in collaboration with campus chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Lynn Walsh is national president of SPJ, an investigative producer at NBC 7 in San Diego, California and graduate of the Scripps journalism school. “I am very glad Ohio universities and student SPJ chapters took the time to evaluate how journalists have been covering suicide. The tips and guidance are appropriate ethical guidelines that will help journalists cover suicide in a responsible and respectful manner.”

-From staff reports