Getting it first, but not getting it right: An example of journalistic failure?


  • You can contact Samaritans in Ireland on 1850 60 90 90 -or- 116 123 -or- jo@samaritans.org, and in Northern Ireland on 08457 90 90 90

 

Diario El Universo. Image: © Alfredo Molina/Creative Commons 3.0
Diario El Universo. Image: © Alfredo Molina/Creative Commons 3.0.
Image: © Alfredo Molina/Creative Commons 3.0

 

This morning, An Garda Síochána in Dublin closed of part of a city centre thoroughfare due to a major incident.

The incident, which had been unfolding from around mid-morning and which has reportedly now been resolved successfully, attracted significant attention among members of the public using Twitter. Some of these people posted written comments; some of these people posted images.

Not long afterwards, well-known Irish journalists, blogs, publications and broadcasters were on the story. They, too, posted comments and images of the incident on social media, as well as on their own websites.

Shortly after that, several members of the public (including me) posted comments, as well as replies, on Twitter to draw attention to the Samaritans Media Guidelines for reporting on such incidents.

To their credit, some individuals and blogs removed their tweets and content from their websites. To their shame, the established media organisations did not; instead, they continued to update their social media accounts and online reports with live updates, photos, videos, embedded tweets, and so on. (To date, many of these remain available to view.)

Image: Screengrab: @Oireachtas_RX (Oireachtas Retort) - 11:46 AM, 1st July 2014

Image: Screengrab: @Oireachtas_RX (Oireachtas Retort) – 11:46 AM, 1st July 2014

 

The problems with the reporting on today’s incident

Not only do the effects of sensationalist reporting risk drawing a crowd to the site of the incident (potentially interfering with any delicate negotiations, with the inherent risk of death or injury that such interference brings), but also risk subsequent “copycat” incidents.

“Young people are particularly vulnerable to ‘copycat’ incidents. Research shows they are the group most likely to be influenced by the media.”

Source: Samaritans (2013) (PDF)

Characteristics of the kind of reporting that lead to “copycat” incidents include information about the method involved and prominent or repetitive reporting – both of which were features of the reporting witnessed online today.

Simplified, the basic advice of Samaritans to media and journalists is to: think about the impact of the coverage on your audience; exercise caution when referring to methods and context; avoid over-simplification; steer away from melodramatic depictions; aim for non-sensationalising, sensitive coverage; consider carefully the placement and illustration of reports; educate and inform.

In addition, they refer journalists to their specific digital media guidelines, and advise journalists to “treat social media with particular caution,” to “avoid dramatic or sensationalist pictures or video” and “not to give a story undue prominence.”

The World Health Organisation advises journalists to “avoid providing detailed information about the site of a completed or attempted suicide” and to “provide information about where to seek help.”

Other than switching off comments, were any of these guidelines for media followed by the major media organisations in Ireland today? It doesn’t seem so.

 

  • You can contact Samaritans in Ireland on 1850 60 90 90 -or- 116 123 -or- jo@samaritans.org, and in Northern Ireland on 08457 90 90 90
  • For more information on media reporting on mental health and suicide, visit Headline.

 

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