Wednesday, September 25, 2013

It Takes a Certain Person to be a Journalist

Jillian Hartmann

Where is the line drawn between being the average person and a journalist? In the article, “A Journalist Breaks the Golden Rule,” a reporter, Anna Song, covered the story on two little girls who were kidnapped and murdered in Oregon City. The girls’ memorial service was televised, attracting a large audience. During the service, Song went up to the podium to send her regards and gave a heartfelt speech. In this article, the Los Angles Times wrote, “Song crossed a line, violating a basic tenet of journalism by participating in a story she was supposed to be observing as a reporter, as an outsider.” In my opinion, I agree with the Los Angles Times. Song crossed the line between being professional and being too emotionally attached. It would have been fine if Song had sent her regards to the victims’ families privately, not on a podium with thousands of people watching. As journalists we need to have those boundaries to stay credible and focus on the important task at hand, the news.

During my summer internship at WPXI, I covered an outrageous house fire. Multiple fire departments dispatched to the fire where a woman and her handicapped mother lived. I never saw anything like it. The house was engulfed in flames as hundreds of firefighters did everything to save the house. After the fire fighters put out the fire, I saw across the street the woman and her mother crying in disbelief. A couple hours went by; I had already interviewed the fire chief and a couple neighbors who witnessed the fire. Again, I saw the woman, but this time she was alone. I gave the photographer my microphone and walked over to the woman with no intention of interviewing her. I gave her my sympathy on the tragedy; simply showing her that this is more than just another story I’m covering. Right away, the woman starts opening up to me on what happened. She goes on and on about how she doesn’t know where to live, how she’ll take care of her mom and how to fix her home.

This sparked an idea in my head. I told her, “The best way for you to get your voice out there is by YOU telling the story yourself.” Her telling the viewers what happened shows how impactful this fire was and will trigger the audience to reach out with a helping hand. The woman agreed to do the interview, and it was the most heartfelt interview I’ve ever done. There were moments during the interview where she had to stop because she was crying so much. I told her there was no pressure and we could stop at any moment, but she insisted on doing the interview. After the interview, I wished her and her mother luck and walked away. Later that night, I’m sitting at the assignment desk with my boss, who told me we were the only news station to get the interview with the woman who owned the house. Right away, I knew the only reason we got that interview was because I showed the woman I was more than just a reporter. I was human; I cared.

Here's the link to the story on WPXI:

The difference between Song and I was that I showed my sympathy without breaking the Golden Rule. I still kept the news as my No. 1 priority. I understand what it’s like to go out on tragic stories and try to hide my emotions. Not everyone can do what journalists do. We see everything raw. It’s not easy interviewing victims who've lost their loved ones in a shooting, car accident or fire. It takes a certain person to be a journalist. 

A picture taken of me doing a standup about the house fire. 
Here's a link to a different story I covered at WPXI where I was in a similar situation where I showed a little bit of sympathy and got an exclusive interview with the victim's son:

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