"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


  1. I knew nothing about this, and I have no desire to go any further to check it out after having read your letter, Keicha. It is very well written and hopefully they will do as you ask: try to remedy the damage they have done.

  2. Four stars and thank you. Beautifully stated and an important mesage to convey. Bravo.


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