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Journalism ethics of reporting suicides

The jubilation of a football victory over arch rival Michigan and a looming Big Ten championship had barely set in for this year’s highly ranked Ohio State Buckeyes when the team and university community received the tragic news that a senior player had taken his own life.

missing-osu-player-1201-art0-glhvcsdk-1karageorge-mugDefensive lineman Kosta Karageorge had gone missing on Wednesday, the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday and a few days before the season’s final home game against the Wolverines. His mother had reported her concerns to police. The family’s worst fears were realized on Sunday when Karageorge’s body was found off campus, death by an apparent gunshot wound.According to information released by the family prior to his discovery, the 22-year-old, who also wrestled for the Buckeyes, had suffered a number of concussions during his football playing days, one as recently as last month. His mother said he had bouts of confusion. The effects were reportedly getting worse. He ended a text message to his mother saying, “I am sorry if I am an embarrassment . . .”

The decision to report on suicides has always been a tough ethical dilemma for journalists. The death of Karageorge is another in a continuing line of self-inflicted deaths that call on the media to act responsibility with their coverage. But the line of responsibility isn’t etched in stone. It’s not as easy as it seems; in my 35 years as a journalist the policy has been all over the place, usually created by editors, subject to change.

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