Doctor of Philosophy
Dr. Carole Farber & Dr. Romayne Smith Fullerton
In this integrated article dissertation, I examine media coverage of suicide in two Canadian newspapers. I seek to answer two research questions: how has media coverage of suicide changed in Canadian newspapers between the mid-19th century and 2013, and what were the standard policies and procedures in newsrooms regarding coverage of suicide during this time? Through a qualitative analysis of historical coverage and a quantitative analysis of contemporary coverage, I show how media coverage of suicide has changed. My historical analysis incorporates extensive primary research from the archives of the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, and ultimately shows that suicide was not always taboo in the mainstream press. In fact, the tip-toeing around reporting on suicide only began in the mid-20th century. I argue that as public perceptions of suicide, and the laws surrounding it, gradually shifted from considering the act a crime to conceiving of it as an aspect of a psychiatric malady, reporting on suicide changed. Once suicide became an untouchable subject in newsrooms the stigma became entrenched, making it a challenging subject matter to address in any meaningful way for decades; however, in recent years the taboo around suicide has begun to break down and once again there is an evolution in how it is covered in Canadian print media.
In addition to a historical and contemporary analysis of media coverage, I provide a review of existing newsroom practices and policies on covering suicide. My review of these routines and rules shows that the approach to suicide differs from newsroom to newsroom and there is not standard agreement on how it should be dealt with in most cases. In this review, I discuss the development of media guidelines for reporting on suicide and the contagion literature that spurred many of these protocols. This work is complemented by insights from some of the leading experts on ethics in Canadian media whom I interviewed for this research. I conclude by outlining the implications of my research and I argue that an ethics of care framework offers a promising alternative to prescriptive and simplistic media guidelines.
Richardson, Gemma, "(Un)Covering Suicide: The Changing Ethical Norms in Canadian Journalism" (2014). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 2278.