Unlike most radio newscasters these days I work alone. Sometimes I bounce an idea off the morning host but decisions are mostly mine to make, right or wrong, win or lose.
On Friday morning the newswire chirped with the revelation that a bullied teen whose YouTube video had gone viral, had killed herself last month. It’s an awful story and one I happen to know well because her video was so compelling and sad it made the rounds on Facebook. As a bullied kid, although for a shorter and less intense period and without social media, it brought back the helpless and worthless feelings I felt in grade 4. The campaign against this teen was relentless. The kids who bullied her have screws loose. If kids make picking on another kid part of their routine, there’s more wrong with them than there will ever be with the child who’s getting picked on.
Here’s the thing: We don’t tend to report suicides. Unless the issue is the right to die or it’s absolutely essential to a significant story, a suicide isn’t newsworthy. It’s sad, it’s tragic even but I didn’t do the story. My newscasts are brief – two-and-a-half minutes – and my focus is local. Still, I felt very conflicted about the story itself.
Media don’t generally report on suicides but everyone else seemed to go whole hog on this teen’s death, I suppose because it’s an issue of bullying gone to the extreme. But it also seemed hypocritical to me. Do we or don’t we talk about people who kill themselves? Young people do all sorts of things they don’t fully understand. The girl chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem and those who contributed to her despondency ought to be punished. But is it news in the greater scheme of things? And does it serve the greater good to talk about it?
There were other stories that I felt were more important to my target audience that morning. I’m sure I made the right decision for my radio station. But what were my fellow broadcasters thinking about when they decided the story was worth telling? And what will they do the next time they learn of a suicide, for whatever reason? Was it hypocritical of them to give this story attention or was it important enough because of the bullying aspect of it? These are some of the great questions that come up in different forms, concerning different stories, nearly every day.