I've heard from more than one reader expressing disgust that The Star and most other local media outlets have reported that the police report about the death of popular Fox 4 meteorologist Don Harman says that he took his own life.
"How could (The Star's) editors have so little shame and respect for the people who are grieving?" asked one anonymous caller.
Many people feel a deep connection to media personalities, particularly those who appear on television, and I have no doubt that lots of Kansas Citians considered Harman more than just a public figure.
But I'm struck by the fact that these readers' observations are the opposite from what I normally hear about how journalists cover suicides. In fact, by far the most common question I hear is why The Star didn't write about a popular local high school girl who took her own life, for one recent example.
In general, The Star doesn't cover suicides by private citizens. The only mitigating factor would be if it occurred in a public place or somehow created a situation observable by the general public. I'm thinking particularly of an incident I wrote about in 2004 when a person died after jumping from an overpass onto a highway, causing a traffic jam.
I strongly agree with the policy of not writing about private figures' taking their own lives, at least in the context of spot news -- a straight report of the facts.
However, there are also times when surviving families may want to discuss the topic, and then it's perfectly appropriate for journalists to tell those stories. Although Starker's Reserve chef John McClure was also a public figure, his family wanted others to know about McClure's struggles, and that's why they were open with The Star's Mary Sanchez after the chef's suicide in October.
Is it driven by prurient interest? That's an individual question, I think. Suicide has touched the lives of a vast number of people, though, and I think many readers want to discuss it to better understand what causes it and how it can be avoided. But I also respect those who think this was a case where the topic shouldn't have been broached.