As we all know by now, the designer Kate Spade died this week at age 55 by suicide. We know this because she was a prominent businesswoman and cultural figure, and the news media has dutifully reported on her death, as it should.
Unfortunately, we also know much more than that, including minute details of how she ended her life — not only the method she used, but even the color of the object employed, which has been reported in countless articles and news accounts.
As both a journalist and a suicide-attempt survivor, I have been disappointed by the sensational nature of the coverage of Spade's death.
In 1843, the British epidemiologist William Farr, in the Phrenological Journal and Magazine of Moral Science, wrote, "No fact is better established in science than that suicide … is often committed from imitation."
Since then, countless academic studies have borne out this theory of contagion.
In addition, public health entities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have published guidelines for media professionals in covering suicide, and in 2015, more than 29 public health, suicide prevention and journalism entities issued Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide, which can be found at the project website, reportingonsuicide.org. There are many other resources available as well, and they're easy to find and access.
In May, Jennifer Michael Hecht wrote for Vox about the "life-or-death consequences" of how the media cover celebrity suicides. She was responding in particular to the awful coverage of the April death of 28-year-old Tim Bergling, better known under his DJ name Avicii. Yesterday, Vox updated the story with an intro that noted: "The coverage of [Spade's] death raises some of the same issues."
Will they add another update after the irresponsible coverage of the next celebrity suicide?
The media must decide: Which matters more?
Liz Spikol is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia. firstname.lastname@example.org