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Scherr, Sebastian, Arendt, Florian and Schäfer, Markus (2017): Supporting reporting. On the positive effects of text- and video-based awareness material on responsible journalistic suicide news writing. In: Archives of Suicide Research, Vol. 21, No. 4: pp. 646-658

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Suicide is a global public health problem. Media impact on suicide is well confirmed and there are several recommendations on how media should and should not report on suicide to minimize the risk of copycat behavior. Those media guidelines have been developed to improve responsible reporting on suicide (RRS). Although such guidelines are used in several countries, we lack empirical evidence on their causal effect on actual journalistic news writing. We conducted an experiment with journalism students (N = 78) in Germany in which we tested whether exposure to awareness material promoting RRS influences news writing. As a supplement to the widely used text-based material, we tested the impact of a video in which a suicide expert presents the guidelines. A video was used as a supplement to text partly due to its potential benefit for prevention efforts over the Internet. We chose a low-budget production process allowing easy reproduction in different countries by local suicide experts. In the experiment, participants were either exposed to written, audio-visual, or no awareness material. Afterwards, participants read numerous facts of an ostensible suicide event and were asked to write a factual suicide news story based on these facts. Analyses indicate that awareness material exposure helped to improve RRS with the awareness video showing the strongest effects. We recommend that suicide prevention should use instructive awareness videos about RRS complementary to text-based awareness material.

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