Journalism: Painful Truth-Tellers or Emotional Vultures

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            Diana Sugg’s Anatomy of the Story is everything reporting should be and everything it shouldn’t be. The gripping emotional rawness is compelling and it’s hard not to identify with her struggle with journalistic ethics. To maintain a separation of author and subject or to be pulled into the story itself by the brutal reality of watching a child die. Journalists constantly hear that they must maintain distance from their subject in order to report their story accurately but I can’t help but feel an emotional coolness even in this story, which is so painful. I can feel Sugg struggle with her feelings towards this boy and his mother but in the article, Sugg maintains that she kept an appropriate distance and somehow that feels cold to me. In a like this I can’t help but feel that the emotional distance, while appropriate and a proactive defense against an inevitable end, added pain to this little boy’s life. Maybe my inability to separate my emotions from my writing makes me a bad prospective journalist or maybe its watching my sister nearly die in the hospital several times over that makes this story hit so close to home; but whatever it is I can’t deny that this story brought out conflicting emotions.

My little sister (or as I call her my baby girl)

My little sister (or as I call her my baby girl)

            The good: Sugg may have kept her distance from her subject but she forces readers to regard the fact that they will die one day by describing a child’s excruciating deathbed in a sort of emotional 1, 2, punch. The devastation in the wake of this little one’s passing makes the reality of death all the more clear. It has the impact that a news story should have, the brutal reality presented clearly and concisely so that the public can wrestle with the hard questions of life.

The bad: Sugg’s emotional detachment towards a child is chilling. I recognize that she attempted to be professional and only did what was necessary for the child in times when no one else could. But to watch a child die and only do the bare minimum to ease their suffering is callous. That type of professional aloofness, although sometimes necessary, couldn’t have been explained to a child thus leading me to believe she hurt more than she helped with her search for a story.

Its not that stories like these shouldn’t be written, they should, but there must be an ethical middle ground in which a journalist can also be human with all the emotions and pain that entails and not an emotional vulture seeking the pain of a story without embracing it as well.

(photo courtesy of freerangestock.com)

(photo courtesy of freerangestock.com)

The Journalistic Tango

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Journalism is a tango of sorts. Beautiful when danced to perfection, painful to look at when danced out of sync. In this analogy the writer pulls the reader in like dancers pull the judges into the story told by their movements.

(photo courtesy of freerangestock.com)

(photo courtesy of freerangestock.com) I understand that these are not people doing the tango but I’ve got limited options on a free stock photo website. 

Like any well-performed tango the communication between reader and writer is often subliminal, dependent upon the journalists ability to appeal to reader’s interests and stay true to their ethics as a writer. Each reader has specific passions that a journalist has an obligation to report on. But that doesn’t mean that journalists have to ignore their own passions. For every journalist’s fascination there are thousands of readers willing and able to voraciously eat up every word. A journalist who writes fairly and produces good work will always have an audience full of hungry readers. However, when a reader discovers their source for news has been feeding them false information, that their trust has been abused; their confidence in any news source is brutally shredded. The bond between reader and writer is just that delicate.

In keeping with the analogy of the tango, there are those who spew false or intentionally misleading information and when the judges (in this case the public) criticize these “news” organizations, they proceed to throw temper tantrums about the ridiculousness of the criticism. In a sense these news organizations are the couple backstage at a dance competition crying and whining about how unfair the judges were rather than owning up to their errors and attempting to rectify them. News isn’t credible because of how loud it’s proclaimed or by how many people its bias appeals to. News is only credible when the audience is presented with the facts, and only the facts, in such a way that they are able to make up their own mind, anything else is brainwashing plain and simple. Unfortunately many people now associate the once shining reputation of journalism with the Bill O’Reillys of the world because they have a platform from which they can scream hate and inaccuracy without suffering the consequences a normal journalist would.

(photo courtesy of freerangestock.com)

(photo courtesy of freerangestock.com) Fair warning this is also someone not doing the tango.

That being said, there are times, like in any good dance, where a single misstep can ruin an otherwise perfect execution. Sources act as the partner in the journalistic tango and sometimes their error can destroy the entire story, even though the journalist had no intention of deceiving his or her audience. Famous cases of journalistic error due to source error run roughshod over the otherwise flawless history of journalism. Sources of information are sometimes inaccurate, they almost always deviate from one another and opponents can easily manipulate their credibility if their past is not flawless. This is why journalists have a duty to continuously pursue the truth. A journalist, like any dancer, must err on the side of caution, always expecting their partner’s error, preparing for it in hopes of rectifying it before it ruins the dance.