In the world of news, reporters and editors often deal with difficult subjects.
In the world of news, reporters and editors often deal with difficult subjects. In the Courier-Post newsroom, we work on tough news almost every day with the inclusion of obituaries in our daily product. Death happens every day in our community and is one of the most sensitive things newsrooms handle because death is sensitive, period. When death strikes in our community, we must act with care and compassion. When considering if a death event constitutes news, we have to ask what purpose it serves to report on death.
Here are things we must consider when reporting on death as a news story.
Deaths involving drug or alcohol overdoses are some of the most tricky situations we encounter — now more than ever.
It’s no secret that law enforcement in Hannibal have targeted heroin in particular as a problem drug in our community. As a result, the Courier-Post often hears about overdose deaths.
In the past year, we’ve reported on and published a variety of drug-related stories — from drug-related arrests to how police strategize to target dealers.
In September 2016, we published an award-winning four-part series on the effects of heroin in Hannibal.
So are overdose deaths a natural extension of that news? At what point are we performing a public service by reporting on overdose deaths?
At the Courier-Post, we’ve made a policy decision to not cover overdose deaths as news.
These situations are extremely personal to a family. That goes without saying.
The Courier-Post does not intervene and create news over private deaths that almost always occurs in a private space like a home.
That’s not to say we don’t report on the effects of overdose deaths. Personal accounts of how the death of a loved one impacts the surviving family are powerful tools to help deter possible future drug use. But we at the Courier-Post leave that up to the family. In the case of our heroin series in September, four families let reporter Trevor McDonald into a painful time in the family’s life.
The story that resulted was one of the top five most-read stories of the year.
Perhaps even more sensitive is when a person takes his or her own life intentionally. Suicides are some of the most difficult events for newsrooms to discuss and cover.
Almost always, the Courier-Post does not cover suicides.
Most news outlets follow the same logic — that suicides are a private, family matter and that the family’s pain does not need to be published or broadcast.
There are certain exceptions to that broad rule.
If the act takes place in a public location, that could be considered news. For example, if a body is found along the Mississippi River, Courier-Post staff would open a discussion on if that merits a small news story and how much information to include.
If the person is a public persona, having some type of prominence or position in the community, that also might warrant further exploration as a news story.
Death is an inevitable part of life, we all know that. We strive to handle these most sensitive moments with great care and respect to all people involved.
The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Courier-Post.