In his latest post on ethics, journalism scholar Stephen J. Ward (head of the Center for Journalism Ethics at University of Wisconsin-Madison) counsels the fullest possible reporting in cases involving public figures.
He acknowledges there are substandard ways to approach the matter, but suggests there is much to be learned in circumstances of tragedy. Journalists discharge their public obligations by reporting the matter. There were opportunities for a wider understanding of depression and other social issues in the recent deaths of hockey players, he notes.
As painful and uncomfortable as it is, he writes, journalists should lean toward full reporting. They should be cautious about accepting guidelines, even though they should be sensitive to minimize harm.
"Deaths in any society should be a matter of public record. No exceptions," he notes. "The release of this information should not be in the hands of family."
Rather than treat the matter sensationally, Ward counsels: "The guiding principle should be: publish uncomfortable facts where such information is necessary for a clear public understanding of the event and to indicate what social responses might be necessary."