"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Responsible Journalism

I try not to use this blog as a bully pulpit, but occasionally things are important enough to me that I think it's appropriate to use it as a platform to spread the word. One such instance arose this week when I learned that VICE Magazine's 2013 Fiction Issue included a fashion spread called "Last Words" that featured models reenacting the suicides of famous female authors. Outrage and disgust doesn't even begin to describe my reaction. The public outcry led them to quickly remove the pictures from their website and issue a weak apology. The images remain in the print issue. 

Below is a letter I'm sending them. I encourage anyone who feels equally dismayed at their extremely poor and irresponsible choice to do the same and to encourage others to as well.

VICE Magazine Publishing, Inc.
Attn: Rocco Castoro, Editor-in-Chief
97 North 10th Street, Suite 204
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Dear Mr. Castoro,

My initial reaction when learning of your recent “Last Words” fashion spread was disbelief. This was quickly followed by disgust, and lastly, deep sadness for the extreme negative effect it would have on so many.

I lost my sister to suicide in 2010. As a survivor I face a daily struggle coping with the devastating aftermath of her death. I’m not alone. It’s estimated that every person who dies by suicide leaves behind six to eight people who will be severely affected by their death. Statistics from 2010 (the most recent available) show that 38,364 suicide deaths occurred in the U.S. that year. In 2010 alone, 230,184 – 306,912 people became suicide survivors. Your fashion spread caused deep, grievous pain to a large number of those survivors, myself included.

In addition to your shocking lack of sensitivity towards suicide survivors, of even greater concern to me is the complete disregard shown towards the suicide epidemic in the United States.  2010 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2010, someone died by suicide every 13.7 minutes. Suicide is an extremely serious national public health issue and should be treated as such, not as material for artful images designed to sell fashion.

Factors that contribute to suicide and suicide prevention are complex and not completely understood. One thing that is known is the important role media can play in prevention. How the media portrays suicide can either help with prevention or encourage imitation. Over 50 studies about suicide imitation or copycat suicides have been done and they’ve all reached the same conclusion: the portrayal and reporting of suicide by the media can lead to suicide contagion, or suicide imitation. This phenomenon is even more pronounced when readers or viewers identify with the person in some way, when the person being featured is a celebrity and/or is held in high regard by the reader or viewer.

Avoiding explicit description of the method of suicide is also important. This can lead vulnerable individuals to imitate the method. Extreme caution should also be used when publishing images of suicide as this can make the method of suicide even more clear. Your magazine failed on all accounts. You recreated explicit, specific images of suicides clearly showing the methods used and did so in a glamorized, sensationalist manner!  Your publication's level of irresponsibility is breathtaking to me.

Your online apology was weak and I don’t accept it. You potentially endangered thousands of lives, and may very well have led a vulnerable individual to attempt or even complete suicide. What you did was harmful. An apology isn't enough. I ask that you attempt to undo some of the damage you've done by publishing an in-depth, responsible article about suicide and the best ways to prevent it. A prominent printed public apology accompanied by information on where suicidal individuals can go for help is also appropriate. Lastly, please consider a substantial donation to an organization like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the leading suicide research and prevention organization in the country.


Keicha Christiansen

Ogden, Utah

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Summer in the City

When, oh when, is life going to slow down so I have time to actually write the many blog posts I compose in my head? May was gone in a flash and June, full of summertime activities, is already rushing by. The month started with a busy weekend at a favorite local event, the Ogden Music Festival. It’s organized by a local non-profit, Ogden Friends of Acoustic Music, and features two nights and three days with full line-ups of bluegrass and acoustic music artists and groups. I only discovered this gem of a festival last year and can’t believe I didn’t go sooner! Not only is the entertainment first class, the location makes it even more appealing. It’s held at Ogden's Fort Buenaventura, a lush, green campground and park along the banks of the Weber River. The fort was the first settlement by people of European descent in the Great Basin area. It was established in 1846 to serve as a trading post for trappers and travelers. 
Ogden Music Festival at Ft. Buenaventura
This year I wasn't there only to listen and enjoy. I was working! Yes, me, working on a weekend. Mike has a new business venture. He partnered with the owners of our favorite local coffee shop, Grounds for Coffee, and turned a former SnoCone shack into a mobile coffee cart. The festival was the maiden outing for the cart and an opportunity  to see how functional it was. Since the title of barista isn’t one I have on my resume' I worked the cash register, which was actually an iPad. Gillian did a brisk side business (really, she was set up right next to the cart) selling snow cones. All in all, it was a great success. It also gave me a new appreciation for my cushy desk job in an air conditioned office. My legs and back were killing me after two days of standing for hours at a time!
SnoCones and henna
Me with Gillian, Day 1
While we were busy slinging coffee at the music festival, Isaac was in Idaho fighting in a boxing match. He won his fight with a second round TKO and is now the Idaho State Champion in the 145 lb. division! We convinced him to pay us a visit at the fort, bringing his champion belt with him.
Isaac with Mike and his coach Val
Last weekend was another favorite summer event, the Historic 25th Street Classic Car Show. Three blocks of the street are closed with classic cars lined up on both sides of the street. The local arts festival was also going on at the same time and in the same area, so O-town was crowded and busy that night. My employer has been the presenting sponsor of the show for the past several years. Sponsors get to pick one of several winning cars, which means I get to pick a winning car. Not being any kind of a classic car expert my criteria is pretty simple, typically based on the cool factor of the car and maybe the color. This year my pick, a 1936 Buick Wildcat, won based on the cool factor. It had two engines!

On a more serious side, last week I had the honor of meeting a father who is walking across the country in honor of his son Jadin, who killed himself in February of this year. He is walking to raise awareness about bullying, homophobia and teen suicide. He started his walk in LA Grande, Oregon and will end in New York. Here’s a link to a local story about Joe’s Walk for Change. My dad and I listened to Joe share his story with a group of youth at the Ogden OUTreach Center, a community center and support group for LGBT teens. It was a very emotional experience, and one that left me in awe of the human ability to overcome crippling grief and to turn a horrible experience into something that helps others.

Yard work is also consuming my time this summer, although from the look of my yard it would appear I haven’t spent much time in it. I seem to mostly be fighting a battle to keep my lawn green and the weeds from taking over. So far I’m losing. At least my tomatoes, herb planter boxes, and flower pots are flourishing. Now I just need to find time for another favorite summer activity-- relaxing with my BFF on my back patio, enjoying a batch of Mojitos made with some of my fresh mint.