Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 12, 2024

Letter: Article about student death was insensitive

By admin | October 23, 2014

Dear Editors,

We are writing out of concern over your publication of an article about a student death in the Oct. 16 edition of The News-Letter. The way in which the article was written and published was insensitive not only to the family and friends of the student who passed, but also to anyone who has dealt with suicide, attempted suicide or suicidal thoughts among themselves, their friends or their family.

Placing the suspicion of suicide in the headline of the article was sensationalistic and potentially disrespectful, in the case that investigation actually revealed the death was not a suicide, a real possibility.

Publishing the personal blog entries of the student was unnecessary and disrespectful of his privacy. While it is objectively your legal prerogative to publish public speech such as that in a blog, in this case it should be clear that a student’s small personal blog is subjectively a private space which should not be deliberately exposed to additional public scrutiny.

Investigating and publishing details of the student’s life that would support the conclusion that the death was a suicide, while simultaneously ignoring any details of the student’s life that would humanize him (as in an obituary), is an active dehumanization of the student.

Placing the article on the front page of the paper with no warning is irresponsible for its potential to trigger readers who have had experiences with suicide in their lives.

Publishing the article so soon after the death is irreverent of the wishes of those friends and family who were notified of the death directly, who may want to inform extended friends and family themselves rather than allowing the news to be broken through media.

It is especially troubling to see The News-Letter publishing such a sensationalized and gossipy article under these circumstances, given that The News-Letter receives ad revenue from its online views. The article currently has over 12,000 views.

Publishing a full-length investigative article is not an appropriate response to the death of a student, suicide or otherwise. Appropriate responses would be a brief, non-investigative article as in “Insomnia Cookies employee dies at store,” published on Oct. 17, or a longer obituary-style piece that aims to memorialize, not sensationalize, the student.

We urge you, as a newspaper which reports on and for a more-or-less singular community, to revise your standards for reporting on topics sensitive to that community, and open those standards up for community vetting.

Earnestly,

JHU Active Minds and the Undersigned


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