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Are journalists public enemy number one?

Interview

There are some professions that set eyes rolling when you mention them: traffic wardens, tax inspectors… journalists?? Yes, in my experience, all of the above apply.When people ask me what my job is – I’m proud to say I’m a journalist! Now I’ve finished  my training, I’ve been working in broadcast newsrooms across the North West. It’s been a learning curve to see the general reactions when I’m out on the road roving reporting.

I love the variety of my job – everyday is different! However, I’ve noticed a pattern that often emerges; I could be chatting to an interviewee as normal, but as soon as my recording equipment is switched on their whole demeanor changes. Some will become tense, sweat beads start forming on their brow and they become fidgety. Now, to a journalist, this gives off non-verbal signals that something’s not right.

When this sort of anxious reaction happens, I get the feeling a lot of people think I’m there to catch them out – but there’s no trick questions on my list. ‘Reporter’, does what it says on the tin; we want to report on what is happening for the story we are covering. Of course, I will ask interviewees challenging questions, when necessary – but if interviewees have nothing to hide then they have nothing to worry about, surely?

Maybe I’m over analysing, because I’m so comfortable in front of microphones and cameras. Sometimes, I need to take a reality check and realise that not everybody is like me. These could be nervous reactions from people who are not used to media attention. It doesn’t explain press officers who become incredibly controlling though. In fact, that just makes me want to find out even more what they might be trying to hide…

It would seem some people are sceptical of us, rather than the other way around. Recently, I had been questioning someone about facts and figures – quite a routine interview. This was a very hot day and I hadn’t been drinking enough water. Sod’s law being what it is, I started having a coughing fit during the interview. I was behind the camera and managed to muffle any kind of noise; no one watching would have known any different – but I must have been pulling some funny faces! The guy accused me of “trying to put him off”. I would never knowingly do that. It just shows how defensive some people can be.

I think events leading to the Leveson inquiry hasn’t helped the image of journalism – but it’s important to remember that inquiry was about print journalism NOT broadcast. The mediums are different; firstly, we are regulated by the Ofcom code. Secondly, there is no agenda; there’s not a weighted political bias in broadcast journalism. We have to report stories objectively, fully attributing quotes.

Attribution is easy to do on radio and TV because you will see or hear the person saying it or it will be quoted directly. Misrepresentation is unethical and it’s hard for broadcast journalists to misrepresent someone – because proof of what was said will be on a recording.

Journalists are searching for the truth, by asking the questions that the public want – and deserve – to know the answers to. We investigate and we we hold people in positions of authority to account. Just think what might be going on in the world without journalists? Having said that, not every interview I do needs to be an interrogation… if the interviewee has nothing to hide.

Broadcast journalists are not to the enemy. In fact, maybe any interviewee who thinks we are should try looking in the mirror?

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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.