Emotion in journalism

I won’t apologise for feeling emotions about particularly moving news stories. I couldn’t change the way I am anyway, nor would I want to. I’ve met journalists who feel differently about this; some think if you’re covering a story then you should detach from the emotion involved. My own view is that I think it makes me a better reporter, giving me a better understanding of events if connect with stories on an emotional level. The audience are going to have these empathetic feelings too, so it makes sense that a journalist should be in tune with this – the audience are the people we are creating the news output for.

Lee RigbyEach day there are stories in the news that can affect us in this way but the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich is one that has flared up public opinions across the country, from the London borough where it happened to his hometown of Middleton in the North-West. A man who had survived the warzone in Afghanistan was murdered on a British street.

Part of the reason why this gained so much prevalence is because the media broadcast or print it. There are no right or wrong answers to the argument as to whether images of terrorism like this should be reported. On one hand, people want to know what’s going on in the world and censorship would water down the, sometimes unpalatable, realism that goes on.

The other side is that it can be seen as gratuitous, just because it’s a big story doesn’t mean we lose taste and decency. This isn’t a film that’s being shown – it’s real life. It’s hard for parents to keep track of too; children may access the images easily in newsagents, on TV channels and the internet, particularly social media and the backlash the news coverage has caused for Muslim communities is a negative example of this.

In terrorism cases, the media gives attackers a mouthpiece for their message to reach (and frighten) more people than it ever could have otherwise, which is essentially giving them what they want. The Woolwich attack suspects were heard asking for onlookers to film them after the attack, proving that point entirely.

My view is that these events need to be reported – the whole point of news is that we cover current events – we don’t want to wrap society in cotton wool either. However, I do feel there needs to be a line on how graphic this coverage needs to be. I know I’ve written about this before in my post about the Boston marathon bomb coverage, but I don’t mind saying it again. Unless we speak openly about this nothing will change. It is important to identify the people who did this, there’s no reason why they deserve anonymity after such acts of violence other than to prevent false accusations on who the attackers are. (This is not an issue in the Woolwich case.) But do we really need to see their bloodied hands? Even a description of that is graphic enough.

Personally, I feel it is disrespectful to to show images of a dead body to the victim’s memory, as well as their loved ones to have to see. It is poignant enough just seeing the photos of him in his soldier drummer uniform, anything else seems unnecessary to me.

It goes without saying that any news coverage should be reported objectively but human interest elements are what make the public want to hear news. I’m not a fan of sensationalism either – so emotion should be kept out of news reports as much as possible too – particularly in broadcast media. That’s not to say that journalists can’t have feelings when the cameras and microphones are switched off; we are all human after all.

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About Katy Booth

BBC Broadcast Journalist who has worked extensively in newsrooms of BBC local radio, regional television and commercial radio. BJTC accredited, from The University of Central Lancashire.

Posted on May 25, 2013, in Journalism, News and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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