Death & Journalism

It was just like every other story. The New York State Police sent out a press release, I had to write a news brief about it.

I’ve written countless news briefs in my time as a journalist. They’ve ranged from the mundane (a burglary here or there), to the bizarre (copious amounts of pot being seized), and hell, they’ve even been depressing – I’ve had to write about a toddler being murdered in the small, quaint town I attend college in.

This one was no different; some 50-something-year-old man was caught trying to reengage in sexual contact with a minor.  I whipped up the story in under a half hour, and without even a second thought I continued on with my day.

Then I found out he hanged himself.

After being arrested, he was sent to jail and soon-enough attempted to hang himself in his cell. Workers got to him at the last second; just in time to bring him to the hospital and pronounce him “brain dead.”

They are currently deciding whether or not to continue life support.

I guess I’m having one of those ‘journalistic moments,’ where you actually sit down and question what you’re doing. I’m steadfast in the belief that I should have written the article. He committed a crime – a public record – and it is my responsibility as a journalist to inform the public of the crimes committed around them.

I’m told my first loyalty as a journalist is to my readers. They, as members of a functioning democracy, are entitled to the truth.  But I can’t help but raise the question of my place in this man’s attempted suicide.  Did my news brief add to the guilt that drove this man to attempt to take his own life? Should I have treated this story with a little more care than just another run-of-the-mill story?

I think for the first time I truly realized that I am writing about people’s lives. Lives that have been changed forever after what they have done.

I suppose this is how a lot of journalists feel when this situation unfolds. I don’t blame myself for this man’s attempted suicide, but moving forward, I think some humanity and objective empathy might serve me well in some of these briefs.

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