Last week's student deaths shook up the entire Cornell community and changed the way we look at our University, each other and ourselves. Every individual is affected differently by such tragic events, and each individual takes away his or her own unique perspective.
The Sun is an independent institution, but it is important to remember that it consists of individual students. Reporters and editors at The Sun are asked to put aside their personal biases as community members, and to act and report with impartiality — a tall task for professional reporters, and even more difficult for young people trying to juggle multiple responsibilities and identities.
When members of our community die, especially under certain circumstances, we are forced to re-evaluate our reporting techniques in light of the multiple roles played by The Sun and its staffers. The Sun is first and foremost a media organization: It reports the news, which naturally but unfortunately includes reporting on death and the circumstances around death.
The Sun is also a part of the Cornell community. While we often report critically on various aspects of Cornell — the administration and the Student Assembly are two of our frequent targets — we do so in the hopes that our reporting will benefit the community as a whole. At the very least, we try to do no harm. “Doing no harm,” as it relates to reporting on student deaths, is easier said than done.
It is important to note that last week’s deaths have not been ruled as suicides. They are still under investigation. However, given the circumstances of the deaths, it would be naive and unprofessional for The Sun to ignore that possibility, and to narrow and restrict our reporting accordingly. Benefits can be gained through news reports and commentary on suicide and mental health, but we must be careful as we approach the topic: The way the media reports on suicide can affect future suicides and suicide attempts, according to research by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
The Sun has a duty to its readers to provide the relevant, accurate information that they want to know. It also has a duty to the community to do no harm. In most cases, these two duties harmonize reasonably well. In this case, it involves re-thinking the wording of headlines, the inclusion of pictures in stories and the placement of stories in our print edition and on our website. It involves presenting all the facts the community needs and wants to know, but presenting the facts in a way that is respectful, professional and sensitive to those made especially vulnerable by the recent events.
As we continue our coverage of last week’s events — and the delicate topics with which they are associated — with ongoing news reports and editorial commentary, we will be walking a thin line that no person or organization ever wants to walk down. If we stray off-track in any direction, please do let us know. Because ultimately, we are a part of this community, and we are here to serve you.