Letter from the Editor Opinion

Letter from the Editor: An apology to our readers

The Cougar published on Wednesday a graphic photo of the scene where a student completed suicide at Agnes Arnold Hall. After receiving feedback from hundreds of readers regarding the photo, I have removed it from our website and our online archives. The photo is beneath the ethics and editorial standards of the newspaper The Cougar strives to be.

To the family of this student, whose identity we still do not know: If you saw this photo, I am sorry. If you didn’t see it, I am still sorry that I allowed thousands of others to see the blood of your son or daughter. In a misguided effort to show the UH community the dark yet true elements of suicide, we disgusted and scarred many readers. That doesn’t help anyone. It was wrong, and I am sincerely sorry.

It’s regrettable that our decision became the story in the midst of this tragic campus event. To be clear, I asked our photographers to take photos of the aftermath at Agnes Arnold Hall. It was my decision, not theirs, to capture the scene and publish the image.

At newspapers, the ethics of the journalists and editors who write and publish stories do not matter. It is the ethics of the readers — our very reason for existence — that matter. My personal ethics, now changed, clouded my ability to see the pain this photo caused so many. It does not matter what I, or anyone at this newspaper, think of the photo. It is the reader who decides what is moral and appropriate.

My desire to show our readers the realities of suicide has not wavered. We will continue to cover mental illness and suicide on this campus whenever it happens.

Suicide is a public health issue, and it must be covered in a manner that is sensitive to the family and friends of its victims and others who have lost friends and family to suicide. This includes not publishing photos of the scenes where suicides occur.

As long as I am editor, this will not happen again.

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  • No need for an apology. The photo was not gratuitous. Grim yes, graphic no. Most of us realize not every news story is sunshine and rainbows, and that a world we can’t look at objectively is no world at all. Perhaps a disclaimer next time. Keep up the good work.

  • A disclaimer is all you need. Maybe you shouldn’t graphically describe what you think is a graphic image if you intend to have it removed, though. This apology only brings more attention to the image and the tragic incident related to that image.

  • The photo reminded me of a previous jump suicide I encountered years ago. The sight is scarring enough but the sound the body makes with the pavement is what haunts me to this day. I have PTSD from it along with being present at a shooting with my friend being the shooter at the PCL library up at UT-Austin. After experiencing all that along with other suicides of friends, it took me a long time to deal with the trauma. I thought I was doing good dealing with it all.

    But then I saw the picture of this recent suicide and it triggered all those memories I had again, all in one blow. It’s hard to get them out of your mind. I feel the utmost sorrow for the life of the student that was lost, and for their family as well. You never get over something like this. You just don’t.

    I am not angry for the photo that was posted. I think that showing the bad outcome is showing reality. But I can also see that it is hurtful to the family of the student and to that student’s memory. It’s sometimes hard to make the call for showing a photo or not. So I completely understand. And It’s okay to make mistakes. I make mistakes all the time! 🙂

  • Covering a public health issue realistically is difficult. As a UH alumna, a former journalist, and a former journalism teacher, I challenge you and your staff to put truth, context, and fairness, first, not the ethics of your readers, for they may be influenced by what is convenient or profitable. Your readers need to be exposed to things with which they are not comfortable in order for progress to be made in solving human problmes. I congratulate you for your efforts to respond to readership, but don’t let only readership dictate what is newsworthy. Your allegiance is to the 1st Amendment in service to democracy.

    Get that fire burning in your belly now, for when you go to work for a corporation, they’ll try to stamp it right out of you.

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