Caroline Flack and Irish News Media Case Study (2021)

This poster is the result of a piece of original Headline research. It examines the reporting of Caroline Flack’s death in Irish online news media and was presented at the International Association for Suicide Prevention’s 31st World Congress.

It is generally accepted that media coverage of a suicide has the potential to affect people who are themselves at risk of suicidal behaviour. The evidence for this is especially strong in the case of a celebrity who has taken their own life. Both positive and negative effects are possible, depending on how the narrative is handled. For example, risk can be reduced and help-seeking can be encouraged by adhering as much as possible to available suicide reporting guidelines.

One element that could potentially affect adherence to guidelines is the type of article being written. For example, in the event of “breaking news” of a celebrity’s death, tight deadlines, pressures to be the first to publish and other news production constraints leave little time for consultation of relevant guidelines. In contrast, one written on the anniversary of that person’s death may be created in an environment more conducive to reflection and revision.

This piece of research examines variations in suicide reporting guideline adherence during different reporting phases of UK presenter Caroline Flack’s death. Duncan and Luce’s typology of suicide narratives is used as a framework for categorising articles. Each of Duncan and Luce’s five narrative categories – event-driven, post-judicial, tribute-driven, anniversary and action-as-memorial – pose their own unique challenges for news media. The initial results of the research reveal potential targeted learning opportunities for news media covering the suicides of high-profile individuals.