Cynthia Doyon, a radio host at National Public Radio station KUOW in Seattle, shot herself to death last August. Her death, widely reported since she was well known in the community, continues to haunt those who knew her, and those who listened to her show, The Swing Years and Beyond.
Seattle Times reporter Michael Ko was one of the first journalists to pick up the story. “It was fairly straightforward reporting,” he remembers in an email interview with Dart. “In our daily contact with police, an officer mentioned that some ‘NPR radio host’ killed herself … from there we asked around officially, first to the Seattle Police Department, then the University of Washington Police Department, then the Medical Examiner’s Office.”
As the information gathering continued, Ko inadvertently broke the news to Doyon’s program manager.
“I called KUOW, thinking they might know (if Doyon’s identity had been confirmed),” Ko says. He asked the program director if he’d like to comment “on the Cynthia Doyon situation.”
“He said he wasn’t sure what I was talking about … we went back and forth, awkward, for awhile. He seemed to be in shock. He was very quiet. I apologized…”
Says Ko, “…it was tough.”
On that first day, the Times decided not to go with the story. “We decided we’d rather not break the news to friends and family in the newspaper,” Ko explains. “…There wasn’t any pressing desire or need to absolutely get this piece of info in the newspaper … there’s always a chance of mistaken identity.”
The next day, Seattle Times reporter Ian Ith was able to reach Doyon’s brother, who provided information about her life. Ko and Ith used the interview, along with others, to round out the Times article.
“As far as what to/what not to report, there was a fairly lengthy discussion about how we should describe her manner of death,” says Ko. “The spectrum is to simply say ‘she committed suicide’ to describing everything. We settled for she ‘shot herself.’ Even then, I received several emails criticizing the paper for revealing too much about her manner of death.”
“How did I feel?,” reflects Ko. “During the reporting process, it was simply a job.” But after he turned in the story, he adds, he and his colleagues had trouble making sense out of Doyon’s death.
Months later, Seattle Weekly writer Philip Dawdy tackled the story of Doyon’s life and death in a lengthy cover story. Like Hyvarinen, Dawdy laments the lack of context mainstream media give suicide as well as the lack of attention depression gets as a very real health issue. And like Hyvarinen, he uses individual stories to illustrate the serious medical, social, and personal issues involved.
In his January 14 article One Suicide Too Many, Dawdy bluntly writes of society’s (and media’s) narrow, unhealthy approach to suicide: “We largely accept suicide as the ultimate act of the mentally ill. Bag and tag the corpse and leave it at that. It is, after all, one of the worst social taboos.
“… How can we boldly discuss,” Dawdy asks, “much less stop, this nasty business that claims tens of thousands of lives a year, given a backdrop of social paranoia and blindness?” (For a radio discussion with Dawdy about the Doyon story, see KUOW.org).
Dawdy’s article is a clear and convincing call for better awareness and more responsible media attention when it comes to dealing with suicide. He demonstrates how effective non-objective journalism can be by interspersing his own struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts along with Doyon’s story and health, political, and cultural issues. He also includes a key element to effective trauma reporting — a list of resources for those who need help.
“I know the pathology. I know the impulse. I know the frantic searching for an end to psychological pain,” Dawdy writes. “…Someone has to speak the plain truth: Accepting suicide is wrong. And that's precisely what societal silence amounts to — acceptance.”