Crisis situations need a different type of personality

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Reading Robert J. Haiman's section on "Newspapers are unfair when they prey on the weak" in his Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists as well as Shelby Coffey's "People" section in Best Practices: The art of leadership in news organizations addressed the public's concern over not abusing a possible source who has suffered a trauma of some sort and how to manage one's people to prevent such abuse.

The best line from Haiman's section that I loved the most went something like this: It's not so much what you say as how you say it. Any talented shrink or negotiator would probably tell you the same thing. In the first example you can be so focused on getting the information you need, on getting the story in under your deadline that you might not realize how you phrase a question to a mother who's child was just found murdered. But if you ask the mother about her child's interests, gain a "human" side to your reporter occupation, then you're much more likely to gain some of the main details that you were seeking, along with a few that you may not have been thinking of.

However, if you just rampage your way through questions that threaten to break an already fragile psyche, then you're going to become the equivalent to the monster that brought your interviewee to the breaking point to begin with.

Which brings me to Coffey's collection of quotes on managing people. Karen Jurgensen said "(On managing characters) I think the worst mistake you can make is to be cowed by them. You have to just stand your ground." So when you discover that a reporter on your staff bullied or harried a source in order to gain information out of them, especially if said source was the victim of a crime or a child, don't let them slide simply because they got the story. There's more than one way to skin a cat (pardon the bad picture), so there was at least one other method for that reporter to find his or her information other than emotionally bullying their source.

Dick Wald said, "The power-mad person winds up with a staff that isn't worth playing with." So even though you need to hold your ground, don't collect people who only bring you power or consistent success without the talent of knowing how to address different subjects. Different people have different talents. Just make sure that you send the person talented in adapting the way they conduct interviews to a traumatized victim or grieving family, and send the gung-ho reporter to cover a story minus said traumatized people.

Care to read what my classmates are writing on these subjects? Then you need look no further.

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