Writing a news story about suicide is one of many difficult tasks journalists face. Experts say media coverage can provoke "suicide contagion," if the coverage glamorizes the death or offers too many details of the act.
It's not entirely unreasonable, then, for the University of Portland's administrators to want undergraduate reporters to write responsibly in the student paper about last month's suicide of a well-liked senior. But UP president Rev. E. William Beauchamp took the Rogue route with his overbearing overreaction to The Beacon's coverage.
As first reported March 30 on wweek.com, Beauchamp, who also serves as the newspaper's publisher, ordered what was left of the 1,500 copies of the March 26 edition removed from campus newsstands just hours after publication. Students then had to remove the entire electronic edition from the paper's website, upbeacon.net.
University spokeswoman Laurie Kelley called the story insensitive to the deceased student's family because of its headline, "Suicide Claims UP Senior."
Four days after the papers were pulled, the school let students repost their story online after they had changed the headline to "UP Mourns Tragic Loss."
It wasn't clear at WW press time whether they would be allowed to reprint the paper.
But Kelley offered additional explanations about the incident that suggest the answer is no and UP's problem went deeper than the headline. "It wasn't our news to break," Kelley says. "It just isn't who the University of Portland is. We really care about our students."
The Rogue Desk doesn't doubt that statement. But neither the story nor its original headline sensationalized what was legitimate news on the campus. And to pull the papers doesn't show much care for those student journalists.
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