Newsroom experts

How The Herald News covered a man on a ledge

The AP Stylebook discourages suicide or suicide attempt coverage, “unless the person involved is a well-known figure or the circumstances are particularly unusual or publicly disruptive.”

So what happens when a potential suicide attempt is unfolding right outside your newsroom?

The Herald News in Fall River, Massachusetts, was recently faced with that tough coverage decision after the newsroom heard over the police scanner that a man who was being pursued by the police had positioned himself on the outside of its own building and was threatening to jump. Before he could do so, he was pulled inside the building by editor Jon Root, who was in the middle of creating a Storify about exactly what was happening.

“One interesting thing, which always comes up with suicide attempts, was how much do we do here? But it was a public street, which was completely shut down, and it involved at least two dozen police, fire, EMS personnel and they shut down our street in both directions,” Editor in Chief Lynne Sullivan said. “So my argument is, this was news, it was happening in front of a lot of people.”

In the end, reporters tweeted and shot online videos from both inside and outside of the building, and while reaction of the newsroom’s coverage was mixed, Sullivan pointed out that viewers were mostly in favor of how it was handled. “Some people were even happy to see actual video of how the police handled the situation.”

“All I really did was help when the officer asked for it.” Root admitted. “I’d rather us be known for the Storify, web update, Tweets, pictures, Facebook [live broadcasts], Tout video and Facebook posts we had while it was all going on.”

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