News for life: Improving the quality of journalistic news reporting to prevent suicides
Arendt, F., Markiewitz, A., & Scherr, S.
Despite much theorizing on the quality of journalism, there is limited actual empirical evidence for the effects of improved news quality on societal outcomes. This study provides such evidence for suicide reporting. News quality especially matters in this domain, as low-quality reporting can elicit “copycat” suicides (Werther effect). We developed and disseminated a web-based campaign promoting high-quality suicide reporting, targeting newsrooms in Germany. Twenty-two newsrooms participated. A content analysis (N = 4,015 articles) provided supporting evidence for an increase in high-quality reporting (Study 1). Interrupted time series analyses offered tentative evidence for a reduction in actual suicides (Study 2). Acknowledging limitations in terms of causal interpretations, the findings support the claim that high-quality news can save lives. Similar newsroom interventions run elsewhere may contribute to preventing suicides globally. We discuss the implications, including those of a theoretically meaningful discovery related to the suicide-protective effect’s underlying mechanism, termed the dampening-the-spikes hypothesis.