Content Warning: The following content features explicit language when discussing hate speech that is offensive in quotes by those saying it. These words do not reflect my own views and are merely used as example.
As aspiring journalists, we should pay close attention to the arising social concerns within news and how best to cover such topics. There needs to be a sensitivity and care to when it comes to stories that can have a strong impact on those reading and even ourselves as those reporting. We must use our own code of ethics that falls in line with our own views, as well as those at large. This is reflected in two topics I want to elaborate more on.
Hate speech, for one, has been becoming more prevalent in recent years due to the 2016 elections and the rise of the alt-right.Recently, Richard Spencer, a popular alt-right figure, was caught in audio saying racist and anti-semetic comments as reported in Vox’s article. “Little fucking kikes. They get ruled by people like me. Little fucking octoroons … I fucking … my ancestors fucking enslaved those little pieces of fucking shit. I rule the fucking world,” says Spencer in the leaked audio.
Now, the quote itself is left intact in the Vox article. This is the choice of Vox media under their own ethical guidelines. Showing the full quote does lend to the way they shape the story on reporting about him and keeps in the five-point framework established by Aidan White of the Ethical News Network. This framework states reporters should “assess the status of the speaker, reach of the speech, intention of the speaker, content and form of speech, and the economic, social and political climate in which it exists.” Given that Spencer has been a prominent figure head of the alt-right movement, the decision to go ahead with posting the quote without censorship shows that what he said is a reflection of the movement and its people as many readers suspected already.
On another note, when it comes to the topic of suicide, we have a different set of rules. This subject, if presented in a certain manner, can have a lasting impact and strong aftermath. The article “Mental Health and Suicide” elaborates on this stating “Stories that specifically detail the method of death, use graphic images or headlines, sensationalize a death, or glorify the deceased all have the potential to increase the risk of future suicides.” Diving further on this is a study from the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention titled “Does the Way Media Reports on Suicide Impact Rates of Suicide?”.
To answer this, they analyzed the media coverage of suicides from the Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto, Canada and the construction of a barrier to prevent future incidents. They analyzed both negative stories reporting on suicide as well as articles that focused on more positive messages. The results showed that “negative reporting initially led to a temporary increase in the suicide rate in the area, but that the barrier, in conjunction with the more positive reporting that accompanied the declining rates, ultimately had a positive effect.”
It is up to us journalists to try to get the news out there without provoking more of the same, be it in relation to hate speech or suicide, and deal with these types of stories with common sense and to inform rather than instigate.