The New York Times Magazine recently released their “Mental Health Issue”, with the articles also available alongside the daily paper on the New York Times website. There are several interesting pieces, but a number of them are very personal and do not employ the objective, impartial observer stance required of a journalistic piece. This is an interesting issue to consider in relation to reporting on this topic, as mental illness is highly stigmatized largely due to a lack of understanding, and most high profile news around it seems to concern either celebrities or criminals. If reporters use personal experience as a “source” on a story does that discredit it to a degree, even if the topic is a subjective experience? At what point is a reporter “too close”? Why do we consider successful professors, actors, artists to be reputable sources to comment on their own illnesses, but shy away from criminals own declarations of instability when the result of their dismissal is some degree of disaster? It strikes me as selective reporting, brushing aside the issue of mental health care and the consequences of limiting access, marginalizing some sufferers, and normalizing others.
These questions were in my mind as I came across a New York Times article about a young man who committed suicide after assaulting four Asian women in New York city this past week. The article focused on balancing evidence of his insanity and potential, spending more time detailing his troubled childhood and distinctly different adult life than it did on the actual crimes. I was curious as to why the sudden shift in his personality was not investigated in more depth, instead skimmed over in the article in one interview with an unnamed source at the very end. The closing line would have made a great lede for the story with this slightly re-worked angle: “He was wearing a silver spacesuit and had a noose around his neck.” Overall the article felt like a collection of disparate facts and observations rather than a cohesive story that explained how or why the events occurred. It didn’t seem to commit to telling the story of the man or the people who knew his functional personality or the victims he attacked or the police who investigated the crimes, but took small pieces from each of these angles.