Tragic event was held in public’s viewPublished 4:13pm Saturday, January 12, 2013
One of the main obligations we have as the community’s newspaper is to tell the stories of the people, places and events that happen in our community. The vast majority of those stories are positive and uplifting, but there are times when tragic events happen and it is our obligation to tell those stories too.
Such was the case Tuesday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which is just steps away from our office in downtown Selma, when a young woman allegedly tried to take her own life by jumping from the bridge.
Over the past few days, The Selma Times-Journal has been criticized strongly for the coverage we provided of her jump and subsequent rescue, with the majority of the criticism based on the photos we published.
Moments after she jumped, our reporters and photographers were on the scene to tell the story of what happened and the amazing heroism shown in saving her life. In a matter of minutes, we went from being horrified at the thought of this woman possibly taking her own life in such a public manner, to celebrating her life being saved and thankful for the men and women who responded to ensure she can go on living, hopefully getting the care she needs to live a productive and prosperous life.
As we documented what happened we compiled a series of photographs that were both riveting and disturbing.
As we continued collecting information and developing our coverage, we learned that, thankfully, she had in fact survived the jump into the frigid waters of the Alabama River, and had not suffered life threatening injury.
In Wednesday’s edition we published a picture of the scene many found uncomfortable, and we were criticized for our choice of photos. We understand why people were upset, as the photo was a powerful image of a young woman who, after being saved by a passerby, was trying to come to grips with what she had done.
But it is our hope today to share some insight into why such a decision was made and why such coverage was published.
Simply, it is our job to do so.
Our standing policy is that we do not cover suicides when the individual involved is not by definition a public person, such as an elected official or celebrity, and when such a tragic event happens in a private place, such as their home.
In this case, the alleged suicide attempt was done in a public manner, jumping from Selma’s most iconic structure — the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
It was done on a busy thoroughfare, in front of dozens of witnesses. Thankfully, one of those people who viewed her jump — Doug Bacon — decided to risk his own life and in the end rescued her.
There is likely nothing we can say that will curb the emotions of those who have so passionately expressed their displeasure with us about how we covered this in the newspaper.
As editor, I am fully aware of the reaction and have spent the past few days taking phone calls. In each case, I have shared with them our position and in some cases, those who have called have left with a better understanding of why we did what we did.
We wish this young woman had not come to the decision she apparently did, resulting in the circumstances that followed as the outcome could have been tragic for her and those who risked their lives to save her.
But it did happen and we, by the very nature of what we do, had an obligation to report on it in both the words that we wrote and the images we published.
Tuesday was not something we liked to do, or want to do again. The coverage of Tuesday’s event was something we had to do.