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Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Journalism of Suicide

The Toronto Sun is reporting that recently retired NHL player Wade Belak took his own life.  Like with WBAL and the recent death/suicide of former Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan, there are multiple (but anonymous) sources cited by the media outlet.

Some have accused the media outlets in both Flanagan's and Belak's cases as being speculative.  Maybe perhaps in the name of breaking a story, the media outlets were liberal in assessing the reliability of the sources.  

After all, the sources were not named.  Is this the coroner's right-hand-man?  Or is this source someone who has simply watched every season of C.S.I.?

Further, there is no mention as to how these sources know it was a suicide.  Can these sources articulate how to tell the difference between a real suicide and a homicide/staged suicide?  

Maybe these sources do.  Maybe they don't.  The problem is that none of this information is presented by the media outlets.

We just know that there are sources and we are supposed to just have faith that these sources are credible.

I happen to have a degree in journalism.  So, I still have faith that journalists know that being wrong about a cause of death will screw their careers big time.  Thus, journalists try very hard not to be wrong about deaths.

I trust when they say "sources" that they have been properly verified and are not armchair coroners found in the local pub.

But I respect the fact that not everyone sees it that way.  And I respect the fact that as it appears in the media publications, there is a lot left to be desired.

More information than "sources say" should be given on a subject matter like this.

Maybe even, journalists should simply wait until the official autopsy results are released.  I don't think that will ever happen - but it is at least something to think about.

In the case of Mike Flanagan - his cause of death was later officially ruled a suicide.  As for Wade Belak, I imagine the same will happen.  

Most likely, the Toronto Sun's sources are close enough to the investigation to know what they are talking about.  Most likely, there are no signs of a staged suicide and the sources can be confident of this.

But of course, I don't know for certain.  All I can do is make my best guess.  

Do Wade Belak's and Mike Flanagan's friends, family, and former teammates deserve more than that?

One could certainly argue that they do.........


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