Monday, September 27, 2010

A teacher is found dead; report carefully.

I learned through Alexander Russo that a Los Angeles teacher concerned that his value-added rating was “less effective” was found dead, a suspected suicide. I urge journalists to consider this principle from a World Health Organization guide to covering suicide: “Suicide is never the result of a single factor or event.” I am not saying an incident like this isn’t worth looking into, but journalists reporting on newsworthy deaths should refrain from DIY diagnoses and be mindful of the complexity of mental health issues.


  1. Of course. But I would counter that with the acknowledgment that suicide is often triggered by a single factor or event that may exacerbate existing depression or other mental health issues - making the connection with the LA Times value-added reporting a genuine and important story, albeit one to which we yet have no clear answers.

  2. I agree totally with Sarah. Many teachers (myself included) strongly identify with their profession. To be told that one is "ineffective" in this critical work could certainly push a depressed person over the edge. For all we know, Mr.Ruelas' job could have been all that poor teacher had to make life seem worthwhile. I DO understand why journalists are circling the wagon though, because this tragedy must be to journalism what having a child kidnapped while on a field trip is to teachers.

    When the Times announced its intentions to label teachers based on tests that were not designed to measure the effectiveness of teachers, I wrote to them several times, telling them that they were making a terrible mistake. As we know they went ahead anyway. Hundreds of innocent teachers must have been so hurt, although hopefully not to the point of suicide.

    The lawyers weren't interested at first because the teachers ostensibly suffered no "harm" but I'll bet there are plenty attorneys right now encouraging the teacher's family to sue. I hope they do.

  3. The LA Times killed him. Plain and simple as that. They were irresponsible in how they collected the data, and how they released the data. Data can be and is manipulated.

  4. Ruelas' family linked his suicide to the Los Angeles Times rankings, and the media has to respect that, period, paragraph, based on all conventional standards of decency. They can quote the family or choose not to mention it, but they may not argue with it. Nor may they misleadingly attribute it to "the teachers' union" when the link was originally made by the family. Those are just the inviolate standards of basic decency.

    Here's a TV news report on a memorial service for Mr. Ruelas, may he rest in peace.