When tragedy becomes a town’s news
Reporting on death is one of the most difficult tasks a reporter must undertake.
The task, though, becomes much harder when a person, who has not experienced her prime years, decides to take her life by suicide. The majority of newspapers — including the Lahontan Valley News — do not rush into a story of this magnitude. Elements are weighed; guidelines are followed.
Suicide counselors strongly recommend that the name of the deceased is printed so that a community as small as Fallon can rally around the family. They are the ones hurting the most from this tragedy.
What made this tragedy a community story came from the numerous postings on social media; the LVN received emails and text messages about a 13-year-old Fallon girl, Taylar Hutchings, who died, and a report from the Churchill County Sheriff’s Office notified the LVN of her death. The school district made hundreds of automated calls to parents.
Most media outlets follow guidelines printed by Suicide.org. When the LVN posted a story online, the basic information from the CCSO confirmed the death; subsequent information detailed the school’s response, which was included to inform the community that school district implemented its emergency notification tree; and counselors assisted staff and students on the following day.
Furthermore, Facebook memorial pages available for general viewing are just that … open to the public with comments now in the public domain.
The LVN published four responses including one from her bus driver that contained this observation: “Taylor rode my school bus. Yesterday I let her off at her front door instead of the bus stop. The past few times I saw her she looked different. A little more messy … She had always looked perfect to me.” A response toward her comment was negative, but several others pointed out the importance of the driver’s observation.
We discussed the overall incident and driver’s comment with a volunteer counselor at the national suicide hotline. She said the comment was more than appropriate; in fact the observation shows the change in the person’s physical appearance and outward signs that something was wrong. If the bus driver saw that change, then friends and teachers may have seen the same thing.
Unfounded speculation is rampant about what may have depressed Taylar, but we may never know unless clues were provided in one of her notes that she left behind.
According to Suicide.org, “There is a strong stigma associated with suicide, so it must be talked about. Sensitive articles about suicide can help reduce this stigma.”
The LVN has reduced the story’s sensationalism. It will not appear on the front page. We will not cover the funeral. We will discuss factors and how people can recognize and report the warning signs of suicide before it’s too late.
We reviewed and weighed guidelines, talked to other editors and counselors and developed a plan for reporting. When a tragedy like this happens, we — the community — all feel the pain.