March 27, 2015


On Friday at the American Copy Editors Society conference, The Associated Press revealed some of the upcoming changes to the 2015 AP Stylebook, and among them is updated guidance on suicide terms.

From our earlier story with the AP’s David Minthorn:

With stories about suicide, the AP now recommends not going into details.

“The guidance also says that we avoid using the term committed suicide except in direct quotations from authorities.”

Instead used “killed himself, took her own life or died by suicide.”

“Committed in that context suggests possibly an illegal act, but in fact, laws against suicide have been repealed in the U.S., at least in certain states, and many other places,” Minthorn said, “so we’re going to avoid using that term on our own, although it’s a term that authorities widely use and we will use it while quoting authorities.”

After those changes and others were shared at the ACES conference, ACES sent out a press release in support of the AP’s guidance on suicide terms. From that release:

For many years, the changes to the Stylebook that have caused the biggest waves have to do with long-time grammar rules being changed, but ACES is supportive of the direction the group went with sensitivity because of the direction journalism, writing and social media are moving.

“While we, as copy editors, might get more riled up about state abbreviations or making website one word, these types of changes aren’t likely to change lives,” (ACES President Teresa) Schmedding said. “But how we handle suicide and style issues on that level, will. Today’s story on the co-pilot of the Germanwings plane crash is a prime example of the need for consistency and responsible coverage when editors need to make style decisions on information of this kind quickly.”

Related – NPR editor: be careful using ‘suicide’ in Germanwings case

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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