Toolkit for responsible news reporting of suicide

A toolkit offering guidance on the responsible news reporting of suicide has been produced by researchers at the University of Strathclyde and Bournemouth University.

The Suicide Reporting Toolkit advises journalists on ways to cover stories of people taking their own lives while avoiding sensationalism, stigmatization and putting other lives at risk.

It provides information on judicious use of statistics and social media posts, as well as on omitting unnecessary details, such as the method or location of a suicide, and offering details on sources of support.

The toolkit also provides guidance for educators on teaching ethical suicide reporting to students. It was informed by a survey of UK and Irish journalism and communications students, which received around 230 responses.

The toolkit sets out six questions for journalists to consider:

  • have I minimised harm to those affected by suicide?
  • have I told the truth yet avoided explicit details of method and location?
  • have I taken care in producing the story, including tone and language?
  • have I used social media responsibly?
  • have I avoided stereotypes, harmful content and stigmatising stories?
  • have I provided support via helplines?

Dr Sallyanne Duncan, a Senior Lecturer in Strathclyde’s School of Humanities, produced the toolkit with Dr Ann Luce, an Associate Professor in Bournemouth University’s Faculty of Media & Communication.

Dr Duncan said: “Journalists have to tell the story about suicides but they have to know what will enable them to get through reporting that story.

“Having been journalists ourselves and knowing the problems of working to deadlines, we wanted to create a tool for journalists that was embedded in storytelling and the news process.

“Tone and language are important; the term ‘committed suicide’ is now not considered appropriate and alternatives such as ‘took their own life,’ or ‘died by suicide’ are preferred. It’s also important to avoid sensationalised or simplistic reporting; for example, mental health can be a factor in someone taking their own life but may not be the only one.

“In social media, reporters need to ask whether posts should be used at all and if they add anything or are relevant. When taken out of context, especially from a thread, some posts can look completely different; they can seem callous, emotional or over-sentimental.

“It can also be useful to include support helpline contacts, although in a study we did of suicide stories, only around half had this. Any statistics should be taken only from credible sources, such as the World Health Organization or the Office for National Statistics.

“We see this toolkit as a living entity and plan to keep it updated with more research. We would welcome hearing about people’s experiences of media reporting of suicide as well as journalists’ feedback on what they would like to see in the toolkit.”