DMU Journalism students get Samaritans media training in reporting suicide
Suicide and self-harm are important and yet challenging topics to be covered on the news. So the Samaritans partnered with DMU to deliver a talk to educate young journalists on the issue. Morgana Ribeiro reports.
Next-generation journalists at De Montfort University received specialist training in the principles of reporting suicide in an innovative link-up with the Samaritans.
Students on DMU’s Journalism programme were given practical advice on sensitive reporting by the charity’s Media Advisory Service this week. For the past three decades the charity has been working closely with media organisations to inform on good practice, but it’s thought this is the first time a session has been delivered specifically for journalism students at a university.
Research suggests reporting suicide requires a different approach from traditional news coverage, with journalists facing a danger of helping to incite imitative deaths. On the other hand, responsible reporting could promote awareness of valuable sources of support and encourage people struggling to seek help.
Students heard about the dangers of excessive detail in coverage, and of the heightened risk surrounding stories involving celebrities and young people.
Lorna Fraser, executive lead at the Samaritans’ Media Advisory Service, explained the importance of the event. “It makes absolute sense for journalism students to be supported in developing a good understanding of the sensitivities and how the risks can be reduced,” she said.
“Partnering with organisations with specialist knowledge creates opportunities to help students develop their thinking around safer strategies, feeling more confident and informed on the issue when confronted with some of these challenging topics in the newsroom.”
Monica Hawley, media adviser at the Samaritans’ Media Advisory Service, stressed the potential impact of ‘positive’ coverage of suicide. She said: “Media stories that show cases of overcoming a suicidal crisis were found to be linked to a fall on suicide rates. This shows how important responsible suicide coverage is.”
De Montfort University Journalism student Thomas Carter felt the session helped him to build a better understanding of the issue and gave him valuable insights to take on to his career.
“The talk was highly informative, and the knowledgeable Samaritans team provided lots of useful research and information for journalists to bring into their work,” he said. “As an aspiring reporter, I will definitely be taking into account the studies they showed when assessing the effect my work can have on the public.”
Jeremy Clay, a journalism lecturer at DMU, added: “It’s vital that journalism students have a deep understanding of the ethical considerations of reporting suicide before they embark on their newsroom careers, and it was really useful to get such sharp, specialist guidance from the Samaritans Media Advisory Service.”
When life is difficult, the Samaritans are available – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at email@example.com, or visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.