TransLivesMatter, as the hashtag has it. It’s a response to the death by suicide of teenage trans girl Leelah Alcorn, of Ohio, and those using social media to share reports and tributes consider it an essential part of the campaign to raise awareness of the suffering of young trans people. But when it comes to suicide, reporting can be a matter of life and death. “Copycat suicides” – in which individuals with an underlying vulnerability imitate suicidal actions from media reports – are a real and documented phenomenon. Along with a sense of basic dignity and respect for the grieving family, they are the reason that journalists should always take into account the Samaritans’ best practice media guidelines. These are simple, reasonable, and ignored by the media time and time and time again. They’re being ignored right now in the coverage of Alcorn.
It’s hard to think of any non-celebrity death this year that has received as much coverage as Alcorn’s. Searching for her name on Google news turns up 183 articles at the time of writing, with the earliest published two days ago (I’m not going to link to any of the reports). In that piece, almost every single one of the Samaritans’ guidelines is broken. The guidelines tell journalists to “exercise caution when referring to the methods and context of a suicide”: the report provides the means Alcorn used in the headline. The guidelines tell journalists to “avoid the suggestion that a single incident […] was the cause”: the report doesn’t discuss any possible underlying causes, but presents the reported hostility of Alcorn’s parents to her trans status as the sole contributing factor.