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Human Being First, Journalist Second

"In times of crisis, we demand the best from the people on the front lines of the story. The cops. The paramedics, doctors and nurses. The teachers. We should expect no less from the people telling these stories, the journalists."
--page 30--Haiman, Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists

I think the above statement is a very important idea to keep in mind when interviewing people about sensitive subjects. The title of my blog implies that being a compassionate human being and being a journalist are separate, but they actually go hand in hand. You can't be an effective journalist if you're not in touch with the emotional impact of an event. If you ask insensitive, probing questions of distraught people, chances are you won't get very accurate, informative answers. Pushing people over the edge may be a way to get attention for your newspaper, but it doesn't adhere to the principles of journalism. You should always want to get the most objective and inclusive information to the public, and interviewing someone who's just experienced a traumatic event in a way that stirs up their emotions will only produce eye-popping sound bites with little substance. Another issue with being insensitive on the reporting of this material is that while it may draw readers in initially, over time these kinds of tactics will really turn readers off the paper. It is obvious from the "What the public says" section on page 32 that people find it really distasteful when journalists try to catch people in vulnerable, unflattering moments. These people will want to switch to a newspaper that is more considerate of people's privacy. While I don't always agree with some of the other "What the public says" sections in the book so far, I think their opinions on this subject do reflect what I imagine the average person's reaction to these kinds of stories is. When journalists try to show people at their most vulnerable, it makes the journalist look much worse than the subject. The newspaper that published the finances of the family whose daughter had been murdered descended to a level that I don't think most people would be comfortable with. So I think it's pretty accurate to say that the most ethical newspapers are often the most successful as well.

Comments (3)

Jeanine O'Neal:

I agree that journalists need to be more compassionate. It seems when we read news stories that the journalists view it as a job instead of a delicate story that could actually hurt people's feelings.

Angela Palumbo:

Matt, I really enjoyed this entry. I wrote my reflection on it. Here's the link in case you wanted to check it out. http://blogs.setonhill.edu/AngelaPalumbo/2009/11/how_tobe_human.html

Jennifer Prex:

I agree that the most ethical newspapers are probably the ones that sell the best. Any blatant breach of ethics would be a huge turn off to just about anyone.

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