Last week we lost two very high profile individuals, to suicide*. Both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had fans and admirers all over the globe give public, beautiful, honest reactions to the news. Much of the main-stream media was, as it often is in cases of suicide, a bloody nightmare. But we can demand better – we’re their dream, active online consumers!
(*please leave the term ‘commit suicide’ behind you – it’s not illegal, they’re not criminals. Just stoppit!)
I did my BA in journalism in 2009. We had an ethics module. We spoke often about the way to treat topics like suicide. Coming from a Dublin university, I assume all other writers-in-the-making also go through these, often dense and not great when you’re hungover, classes.
The main takeaway was, in this and most other news reporting classes:
REPORT WHAT’S IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST TO KNOW.
Basically, as a writer, I was trained to think to myself – what is new, informative and beneficial? I mean, as a reader, that’s what you want too, right? Who has time for endless, elongated essays? Gimme the deets and if I want to delve deeper, I will.
That being said, I’ve got a couple of questions for any number of media outlets on the way they’ve handled these two, recent suicides … because something’s just not sitting right with me …
Is reading Kate Spade’s final note to her thirteen-year-old daughter important public knowledge?
Now I make no claims to be the most experienced or enlightened writer, but this is vile. Literally hours after news broke about Spade’s passing, these were the headlines that abounded – and as much as I’d love to pretend it was ALL the Daily Mail and their usual bullshit, it wasn’t.
Ultimately, it is of no use or benefit to us, the glorious general public, to have our greasy paws on this private information. We can easily understand that people were visibly upset on hearing the news. Is it a surprise that a note was left for the child – I repeat, child – involved? The extent to which we did not need articles like the above is incredible.
Not only are these writers stomping, with dirty feet, into a moment of absolute devastation for Spade’s loved-ones, they are publicising what was likely the most intimate words she every wrote. Words that were surely never intended to be for public consumption.
But wait, to make these action even shittier – they were words meant for her CHILD. A thirteen-year-old lost her mother. What on Earth gives us, the endlessly-scrolling public, the right to her mother’s last sentences to her? On the day that part of her world collapsed, the media pried even more from her barely-teenage hands.
We didn’t let her decide how, or if, she wanted to face the public world in light of her loss. We threw her into the spotlights and waved what we knew in her face, hoping for a reaction that’d fill those column inches.
None. There is literally no benefit in me, or you, or your weird next-door neighbour knowing the method anybody used to kill themselves.
In fact there’s a number of studies and reports showing the dangers of articles like the above from the New York Post. Long story short, there’s a risk of ‘contagion’ (their word not mine) – basically copy-cats often arise after sensationalised reporting on suicide.
And if being a deciding factor in a person taking their life isn’t enough reason for higher standards, we’re once again in invasive territory folks (sensing the theme?).
With reporting norms being what they are today, we have people who’re going through some of their most devastating days cannot go to the corner shop to buy milk without headlines like the one above glaring at them from newsstands.
Now, I was an enormous, enamored fan of Bourdains. I wanted to go on the beer with him and just have him tell me stores. Scrolling through feeds of gross ‘reports’ about his passing brought me down for a couple of days – AND I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THE MAN!
That’s so bizarre, I hear you say. Isn’t there some kind of guidelines for reporting sensitive topics like this? Well funny you should say that, yes there are. Many! In fact, there’s an actual website called reportingonsuicide.org, if the Google search is just getting too much for you. Here’s what they’ve got to say:
There’s no jokes to be made about how much of the media treat suicide. The guidelines are there. They’re so easily accessible and most media houses will also have guidelines in their style books. This isn’t a case of ‘we didn’t know’.
The click-bait is real. The push to one-up other outlets is constant. And best practices? Well, they’re just a bit boring for a 24hr news cycle, aren’t they?
But we’re the target audience. We’re the clickers. There’s someone in a cubicle running stats on how to get us to engage. And basically, we’re coming out as mindless, prying, shrews. And there’s power in recognising that. Just don’t click the damn link! It’s as simple as that.
Being a conscious consumer isn’t just about ditching straws or ethical cotton. There’s a dollar value on every single thing we choose to engage with. And I’ll be f*cked if my online activity gives one cent to organisations with such limited ethical scope.
About 800,000 people take their own lives annually.
Taking it regionally, it looks like this:
There is no glamour in suicide.
But there should be respect.
The individuals who’ve made the choice to end their lives, made that choice from a place of incredible pain. They lead lives, left legacies and people behind.
They don’t deserve to be demonised or sainted. And, you know what, if they were fairly private when alive, they probably don’t want to be splashed across tabloids in death.
How I will remember Anthony Bourdain is as a man who could sit down to dinner with Barack Obama and with the people of the world’s most remote tribes, and treat both dining partners as equals. In an America that’s so scared of those across the borders, Bourdain continuously showed that we’re all fairly similar. We like good friends, good food and good laughs.
Kate Spade was a female entrepreneur who built a successful global business without sacrificing her vision. She made tongue-in-cheek, chic. She quietly worked towards inclusivity and diversity in her business decisions. Just as silently, she gave. She gave her time, her skills and her product to numerous charities. In other words, a complete badass.
Now I don’t know about you but, for me, compassionate treatment feeds my soul much more than sensationalised tidbits.
So be well, and be nice to eachother, loves – K
If you think a chat with a suicide hotline could be of any benefit to you at ALL (because, really, what have you got to lose?), please drop them a line:
Canada: 18662773553 || 5147234000 (Montreal)
United Kingdom: 08457909090
If you don’t see your country, there’s an exhaustive list here.