A review of The Day’s reporting on suicide
“We’re not in the business of holding back information,” we often tell people who ask us not to report something that might embarrass them.
Conversely, we also acknowledge this to be true: “Just because we know something, doesn’t mean we have to report it.”
Community and internal discussions of our Jan. 4 coverage of Waterford Patrolman Adam Lapkowski’s death by suicide evoked these two contradictory journalism adages.
Some of you told us we shouldn’t have reported this story at all, but we’re a newspaper, and it’s our job to inform the public. Some of you said we included too much detail.
We care about our community and are striving to strike the right balance between providing relevant information in our stories while remaining sensitive to the people involved and others who may be triggered by our content.
We won’t satisfy everybody, but we hope it helps to hear how we approach reporting on suicides.
It’s been a longstanding policy at The Day that when public officials die by suicide, or when the suicide takes place in a public manner, we report on them. Lapkowski was a town police officer, and he died in a cemetery after Waterford police issued a broadcast to be on the lookout for a distraught male driver who may be armed.
Town reporter Kevin Arnold reported the story, which was edited by Night News Editor Joe Wojtas. I was on vacation when it published. I opened it and thought, “What a horrible tragedy. And what an excellent reporting job.”
We understand the pressures faced by those who serve in law enforcement and will be watching to see whether they are receiving adequate support.
Three years ago, we reported extensively on the death by suicide of an area correction officer and a follow-up hearing on the availability of mental health benefits.
Wojtas told me how the story on Lapkowski evolved, and the newsroom met this week to discuss our future coverage of suicide.
“I think many people feel we should never write about a suicide,” Wojtas said. “But I think keeping it quiet just adds to the stigma that mental health advocates complain about.”
We understand that stories like this can trigger suicidal thoughts in those who are depressed, and agreed we should have included resources on how to seek help. We’ve since added that information to the story and it is attached to this column.
Some readers who saw the initial posting of the story online objected to the inclusion of the names of Lapkowski’s young children, which his father, who is quoted in the story, had provided to Arnold. We removed the names after approximately 45 minutes and they were not published in the next day’s print edition.
We reviewed the Associated Press stylebook for their policy on suicide coverage, which says, in part, “Generally, AP does not cover suicides or suicide attempts, unless the person involved is a well-known figure or the circumstances are particularly unusual or publicly disruptive.”
“Suicide stories, when published, should not go into detail on methods used,” according to the AP. “Suicide prevention experts believe, based on experience and some studies, that the less said in the media about the methods of suicide, the less likelihood that a death will prompt at-risk people from taking their lives by that same method in the days immediately after.”
After reviewing our coverage, speaking with members of the community and holding a newsroom discussion, here’s what we decided.
“We should always say died by suicide NOT committed suicide,” said Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta. “We are going to refrain from using the method of suicide, but there will be situations when we have to say it, for example, if someone jumped off the bridge and died or jumped in front of a train.”
“When we write stories about sensitive issues like suicide, problem gambling and domestic violence, we will add resources at the end of those stories so that those who are struggling know how to find help,” Larrañeta added.
This is the opinion of Engagement Editor Karen Florin. Reach her at email@example.com or (860) 701-4217.
Help is available
Help is available 24/7 for anyone with suicidal thoughts. Call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988 or text HOME to 741741. Learn more about suicide prevention at www.preventsuicidect.org.