I was fortunate to meet Laura Nicholson in her second year at Carleton University, when I was her instructor for J2201 – Fundamentals of reporting. (Boot camp)
She is intelligent and instantly likable. So when I saw her in our newsroom, I was thrilled to hear she was writing a piece for us.
Quickly, I was saddened to learn the subject matter, and that Laura has also been affected by suicide, but I am impressed at the courage she has shown in telling her personal experience. Her piece should serve to remind all journalists that we are reporting on people when tragedy strikes, and that things are rarely as black and white as they might seem.
Take this description of her father, and how he was depicted in news stories and headlines after he killed her mother and then himself:
Family and friends were devastated when reading headlines like: “Reports of Nicholson’s behaviour set bells ringing for therapists,” or, “She called her husband a control freak.” This couldn’t have been the Ian they all knew and loved. And it wasn’t. The Ian they cherished was a kind, loving man, a man who volunteered at the hospital, a constable who worked to keep his city safe despite his hatred for a job that made him fear for his safety. The Ian they knew was a soft-spoken, caring individual who would give the shirt off his back to someone in need.
The media didn’t know this side of my father, however. Reporters defined my father’s life by the one tragic decision he made rather than focus on his other 42 years, which he lived respectably and with dignity.
My father was not in his right mind when he murdered my mother. Insanity, loss of hope and sadness had set it. I am not excusing his actions, but I encourage journalists to look deeper at the person they are writing about — to look at someone who was a son, a brother, a husband, a father and a friend. While readers may only remember articles for a brief time after the event, they linger forever with the family. My heart and soul break for my father, a man who felt so hopeless he believed death was his only way out.
Read more of Laura Nicholson’s thoughtful piece in the Ottawa Citizen here.