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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Shadid Curriculum: Silent Suffering

Night shot of lit sign reading "Dispatch: Ohio's Greatest Home Newspaper, 145 Years of Service"
Jill Riepenhoff, Michael Wagner, and Lori Kurtzman of The Columbus Dispatch were 2016 finalists for the Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics.

The series showed that little is being done to combat one of the nation’s leading causes of death. Stories explored the stigma surrounding suicide, the lack of access to care, the reasons people kill themselves and what we can learn from those who have attempted suicided.

Columbus Dispatch nomination

Pushing Through Taboo and Institutional Failures

While writing abut the growing public health issue of suicide, Jill Riepenhoff, Michael Wagner, and Lori Kurtzman of The Columbus Dispatch balanced issues of privacy with fears of copycat incidences while reiterating the need for transparency and honesty.

Despite being the 10th leading cause of death in America at the time, suicide was rarely mentioned explicitly in obituaries due to cultural norms and shame, and was sometimes not even recorded because of underfunded or absent coroners.

As a taboo subject rife with emotional baggage for the families of victims, privacy and deference play a role in reporting on suicide. The Columbus Dispatch also had to contend with the possibility of copycat suicides as well as the taboo of being open and honest about victims.

These journalists are open to doing virtual class visits. Contact Center administrator, Krista Eastman ( for more information.


Q1: Journalists often tackle institutional failures, but much of Silent Suffering speaks to the impact of the social taboo of speaking about suicide. Do journalists have an obligation to report on social and cultural norms? 

Q2: Comparable to school shooting copycats, some subjects have the potential to incite more cases. Should this phenomenon ever stop a journalist from reporting on the subject? Should it change how the reporting takes form?

Q3: How much should families’ preferences factor into coverage decisions? When might it be justifiable to report on something when a family prefers it remain unreported?