Bullying coverage: Must we wait until someone dies?

Jan 24th, 2013 | By | Category: J-Schools, News

Boy picks on another boy in a locker room

Bullying often happens out of sight, and newsrooms miss some of the real stories, too. / © P Wei, iStockphoto.

By Joe Grimm
Michigan State University
School of Journalism

Ever since students in one of my classes at Michigan State University did a book called “The New Bullying,” I have been paying more attention to news coverage of the issue. The point of the book is that bullying has changed a lot in the past 15 years. Older people need to brush up on cyber bullying, texting and other developments. I see three kinds of stories, all reactive:

* anti-bullying rallies and events, usually at schools and often organized by students

* legal proceedings

* deaths possibly related to bullying

There are very few enterprise stories. Deep coverage seems not to happen unless someone dies. Then it is too late. There is usually an investigation story, the family’s reaction and a story on suicide prevention.

Legitimate news stories are getting missed. Bullying has consequences far short of death. They should be reported to address social aggression earlier and to give a more accurate picture of the issue. Most bullying does not lead to death.

Here are five enterprise stories that would break the cycle:

* Bullying is linked to truancy. You can find studies on several sides of the issue, but the bulk of the research shows that some students who are bullied stay home from school.

* Dr. Marlene Seltzer, who started the NoBLE anti-bullying center at Beaumont Children’s Hospital in Royal Oak., Mich. did that after finding that many ob-gyn patents who have abdominal pain also report being bullied or abused. She sees a connection between bullying and medical visits.

* Social aggression in the workplace seems to drive attrition, costing workplaces untold millions. This is a business page story. U.S. attention on bullying began in schools. In some countries, it began with workplace “mobbing.”

* People who bully have a higher incidence of incarceration. Ask police and corrections officials.

* Workplace bullying, says one study from Helsinki, increases drug use by targets. This is another health story. Remember: Research on some of the leading issues with social aggression is not made in the USA. Overseas research is often ahead.

Suicide awareness articles are fine, but they come after someone has died and ignore the costs of bullying short of dying.

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