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Press Releases | Living With Suicide
For immediate release
Contact: Suzanne Seggerman (suzanne@weblab.org)
Kevin Dando (kdando@pbs.org)

Second Web Development Fund Project on PBS ONLINE
New York, NY, June 23,1998 - Suicide is an uncomfortable subject. Those touched by the self-destruction of a loved one typically live in guilt, shame... and silence. Living With Suicide: Shared Experiences and Voices of Loss, a new Web site launching June 23, is intended to break the silence and encourage "survivors" not only to find a voice, but to build a community. Rather than a solemn memorial, the site is a dynamic, participatory forum -- a wellspring of passionate voices and shared experiences about self and society, love and loss, hope and growth.
Created by former Discovery Channel Online (DCOL) producers John Keefe andPeter Esmonde, and launched with support from Web Lab's Web Development Fund in association with PBS ONLINE, the site grows out of personal experience; Keefe's father took his own life three years ago, and after seeing how few places there were for survivors to talk openly about the effects of suicide, Keefe realized that the Web provides an ideal forum."This topic is not something we speak about freely, especially our personal encounters with it," he said. "The Internet allows us to do that in a safe and supportive environment."
Two core components of the site are "Shared Voices," a section which displays first-person stories submitted by suicide survivors, and "Conversations," a dialogue area where survivors can comment on stories, talk about their lives, offer each other support and, hopefully, come to terms with their complex emotions.
Just as suicide enters lives unexpectedly with unpredictable effects, stories appear on the "Shared Voices" page randomly selected from all the available stories. A visitor can then hit a "shuffle" button and bring three new stories up. Current stories range from a woman who dreamt that her son (dead for a year) returned for a wonderful visit, to a young man whose life was changed by the loss of a college buddy ten years ago, to a woman whose divorced husband killed himself, leaving the two children they "co-parented" behind. As Keefe says, "Hopefully visitors to the site will find strength in the stories of others; most importantly, they will learn that they are not alone."
After the launch, Keefe plans to invite visitors to the site to contribute more than just their stories. "We've created this site for the community and we want the community to guide its development," he said. He will ask site visitors to critique the site and suggest and debate possible new features.
"Although this sounds like a 'downer' subject, it's an uplifting site,"said Marc N. Weiss, Web Lab executive producer. "It provides an extraordinary opportunity for people to turn to others who have some measure of shared experience. In fact, somewhat unusually for the Web, the 'success' of the site depends on the contributions of those who come to it."
John Hollar, executive vice president of PBS Learning Ventures, said, "The partnership between Web Lab and PBS ONLINE is intended to extend to the Web the same unique, compelling experience that television viewers have experienced on PBS for nearly 30 years. Living With Suicide deals with a difficult subject in a way that's consistent with the PBS tradition: with dignity, compassion and intelligence."
Living with Suicide is one of eight sites funded through the first round of Web Lab's Web Development Fund (WDF). The first WDF site, Working Stiff (http://www.pbs.org/weblab/workingstiff), launched on June 15. The WDF provides financial support and visibility for innovative new projects that demonstrate the potential of the Web to catalyze new perspectives, new thinking, and new relationships between people. The first group of WDF sites launching in 1998 will reside on PBS ONLINE, under a one-year exclusive showcase arrangement with PBS.
Web Lab, a project of the New York Foundation for the Arts, is supported by PBS ONLINE, the Ford Foundation, and private funders.
Team bios
Co-producer John Keefe is a many-media producer based in Brooklyn, NewYork. His company, North Woods Productions, produces live audio and video netcasts, builds online stories, develops science television programs for public television and performs field-audio work for A&E, Discovery Channel and The History Channel. Keefe is the former science editor for Discovery Channel Online and was executive producer for DCOL's live Internet broadcasts, including a weekly, interactive talk show hosted by National Public Radio's Neal Conan. A print and radio journalist by training, Keefe won a Peabody Award for his role as co-creator and senior producer of "Kinetic City Super Crew," a science radio series for children.
Creative adviser Peter Esmonde is vice president for new media at Encyclopedia Britannica. Trained as a filmmaker, Esmonde worked as an editor, story analyst, writer, researcher, and associate producer on both documentaries and feature films before moving into new media in early 1995. He was part of the initial team that built Discovery Channel Online, and served as the site's technology editor until March of 1997.
Co-producer Mary Esselman is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer, researcher and storyteller who contributes to numerous magazines, television documentaries and online publications. Her work for Discovery Channel Online includes some of the most popular features on the site, and one of her print projects earned her a National Magazine Award nomination.
Designer Britt Funderburk is an art director at Nicholson NY, and another member of the team with roots at Discovery Channel Online. At DCOL he built dozens of interactive features and spearheaded a redesign of the entire site, including its navigation, architecture and graphic design. Funderburk has worked closely with both Esmonde and Keefe to create award-winning interactive web content, and has won major awards for his personal work on Web site and CD-ROM projects.
Web Lab credits: Marc N. Weiss, Executive Producer; Barry Joseph, Supervising Producer; Suzanne Seggerman, Project Manager; Chad Ossman, Project Assistant.

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