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Suicide in the Media

by | 04/18/2011 | 0 comments

The headline:

Shock, Tragedy at Bend ‘Open Mic’ Night: Teen Keyboard Performer Stabs, Kills Self as Crowd Looks On

A brief synopsis: 19 year old Kipp Rusty Walker performs at an open mic night at Strictly Organic Coffee Company in Bend, OR and then stabs himself in the chest repeatedly in front of the audience. He dies.

A Google search of “Kipp Rusty Walker” relays plenty of hits, most of which are some mish-mash of an article posted by local Bend station KTVZ. Interestingly, while KTVZ does actually address what you should do when a friend threatens suicide (the correct answer here is TAKE IT SERIOUSLY), most of the other posts are more concerned with what Walker called the song he played before he killed himself (something like “Sorry for the Mess”).

If you watch the video associated with the KTVZ article, you’ll notice that anchor Adam Aaro says something I find absolutely infuriating, and it is this: “We normally don’t report on suicides.”

I’ve got a lot of thoughts on this, but most of them are ethical and stray from the most important question, which is: Why does it take the inherent sensationalism of a public suicide for a media outlet to decide to cover the topic at all?

It is a fact that suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

If the media chooses to sweep it under the rug, how is the public at large supposed to know that it is an omnipresent social issue which knows no age, creed, or ethnicity? I understand that we’re all supposed to be responsible citizens of the world, but that’s mostly unrealistic given the constant influx of content and the warp speed at which we live our lives. The fact remains that many of us rely on the media to supply us with information about the world, and that includes telling us what’s going on and what we should be paying attention to.

If the media chooses not to report on suicide, the knowledge is not made available to the public thatsaving a life could be as simple as asking someone if they’re having thoughts of hurting themselves. If the media chooses not to report on suicide, all the crap mythology gets perpetuated. I know that people will still die by their own hand, but isn’t saving just a couple lives a start?

Sure, it’s depressing, but I’d rather hear about suicide over Charlie Sheen any day. If we’re talking about it, there’s a better chance we’re doing something about it.

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