Why newsrooms throughout Colorado are debating the word ‘suicide’



Covering suicide has long been tricky for journalists. Some newspapers have a policy not to report on them, which, in the era of social media, can be maddening for some local reporters who find their Twitter and Facebook timelines filled with questions from readers when a suicide happens in their community and the word is out.

Here in Colorado, a different debate over the “S” word is rippling through newsrooms: How to describe a ballot measure voters will consider in November that, if passed, would allow patients with a terminal illness to legally obtain prescriptions for drugs that would end their lives. Should journalists call that assisted suicide?

This week I looked into this ongoing discussion among Colorado journalists for a piece at Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project.

Advocates here, like Holly Armstrong, running PR for the Yes campaign and a board member of The Indy, call the ballot measure in question “aid in dying” or “right to die” or other terms, and they say reporters describing it as “assisted suicide” is offensive

After talking with multiple newspaper, wire service, and public radio editors around Colorado, I found not everyone agrees on the terminology. In a broadcast, Denver 9News reporter Brandon Rittiman threw down the gauntlet, explaining why the station will continue to use the word suicide. The Coloradoan’s editor wrote her own column about the paper’s choice in phrasing.

An excerpt from the CJR piece:

Like abortion, immigration, or even the estate tax before it, the movement for what is sometimes called “death with dignity” has sparked a debate over political terminology. Newsrooms around the state are discussing the issue right now—but so far, there is little consensus.

Find the whole story here. I hope you’ll read and share it widely. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Editor’s note: The Colorado Independent’s policy is to use the term “aid-in-dying.” The reasoning: Suicide is, in part, a legal term, and it’s against the law, says editor Susan Greene. Aid-in-dying— which has several safeguards built into its language— would, by definition, be legal.

Looks like former Denver Post editor Greg Moore found his Second Act

The longtime editor of The Denver Post took himself out of the running for a chance to become the public editor of The New York Times. (Former CJR editor Liz Spayd has that job now, btw.) So what is he doing since he abruptly stepped down from the paper in March prior to another round of buyouts and layoffs? Teaching a class this fall called “Deadlines and Disruptions: New Issues in the News,” at CU-Boulder, the college announced.

The seminar “will tackle the challenges facing public service journalism in an era that demands 24/7 coverage at the same time it is resource-starved,” according to the university. “With a mixture of class discussion, lectures, readings and visits from professionals, Moore will cover both the right way to produce quality high-impact public journalism and the difficult realities.”

One Colorado reader had an alternate name for the course when I shared this news on Twitter Tuesday: “Training more people to be unemployed.” Ouch.

Have an open records dispute in Colorado? Get ready to lawyer up. How we compare to other states. 

Thanks to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, we now have a comprehensive look at how each state handles appeals to open records responses and what reporters and citizens can do when they have a problem prying public information from the hands of bad bureaucrats. CFOIC asked Matthew Aeschbacher, a DU Sturm College of Law grad, to look into it, and released a report this week. Bottom line in Colorado? “Litigate or pay up.” (Another reason Colorado scored so horribly with a grade of ‘F’ in the category of public access to information during the latest State Integrity Investigation on which I worked.)

But, according to this useful CFOIC report, “At least 26 states offer some sort of dispute-resolution process as an alternative to suing the government when violations are alleged.”

You can read the whole paper, “Freedom of Information: State-by-State Evaluation of Alternative Dispute Resolution Processes,” here.

But hey, one of our state lawmakers actually wants to do something about this…

Democratic Sen. John Kefalas of Fort Collins told his local newspaper this week that he is, in the paper’s words, working on a pitch that involves “the creation of an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, such as a mediation board, to allow for appeals of CORA denials.”

Let’s keep an eye on that.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado 

Where you riding the train from Denver to Glenwood Springs and back all weekend and neglecting to read the important news fit for the Sunday front pages of newspapers throughout Colorado?

Well, The Longmont Times-Call ran a feature about the city’s increasing use of SWAT teams. The Loveland Reporter-Herald fronted a story about a competitive corn-eating event. The Steamboat Pilot Today & Sunday put a local startup on the cover. The Pueblo Chieftain had chile farms on A1 (Headline: “It’s still August, but it’s chile out there!”). With “A calling to Arm,” The Greeley Tribune had a big package on local gun culture, the rise in carry permits and firearms buying. The Denver Post ran a story about heroin use in southern Colorado (Print headline “It’s everywhere”.) Vail Daily fronted a piece about a summit of stem cell doctorsThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins had a feature about the county’s growth vs. vanishing farmlandThe Boulder Daily Camera ran a story about ex-members of Resurrection Church warning incoming students about a cult-like campus ministry. The Gazette ran a story looking into a potential shadow government in Colorado Springs. And The Durango Herald reported on a $12 billion backlog in national park maintenance.

Is a U.S. Senate candidate blacklisting Colorado’s largest newspaper?

Wednesday afternoon, Denver Post politics reporter John Frank wrote on Twitter about an exchange he had with the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, Darryl Glenn, who I can say in my own experience was perhaps the most accessible candidate in the dozen-or-so-candidate primary. That changed when he became a general election candidate.

I reached out to Glenn’s campaign spokeswoman about this, but haven’t heard back.

Innovative idea: The Coloradoan lowers its paywall for certain stories 

The Gannett-owned newspaper in Fort Collins, which has a metered paywall that allows readers to check out a handful of online stories before you hit a wall asking you to pony up, has decided to remove its meter on stories related to the upcoming November elections.

“This means those who don’t have a digital subscription (or those that aren’t logged into their Coloradoan.com accounts) will be able to access all election-related stories, photos and videos,” wrote editor Lauren Gustus in a column this week. “With such a significant ballot upcoming, we want to be sure we’re allowing for any and every opportunity to engage. Including with those who might not be subscribers.”

Talk about a public service!

Last thing. Accountability coverage number of the week: 30. But also 54.

Thirty percent. That’s how often voters take the advice of a state panel that reviews judges and and recommends whether a justice in Colorado is unfit to stay on the bench, according to an analysis by Denver’s 9News. Furthermore, “on average, a judge deemed unfit to stay on the bench will win re-election in Colorado with 54 percent of the vote,” the station’s reporter Brandon Rittiman reported.

Read the full piece, headlined “Colorado judges win elections despite bad reviews,” here.

*This roundup appears a little differently as a published version of a weekly e-mailed newsletter about Colorado local news and media. If you’d like to add your e-mail address for the unabridged versions, please subscribe HERE

 Photo by jfcherry via Creative Commons on Flickr