Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Reporters Are Not Mechanical Cyborgs. We're Just Doing Our Job.

Samantha Harrington

Everyday people complain about the society in which we live. A society that sizes up and pressures males and females to be someone else or what society conceives as “perfect.” This idea is glorified in the case that focuses on body image. Although the expectation for a journalist’s sensibility doesn’t fall under the category of “body image,” it is closely related in the sense that it is a far-fetched, impractical perception that humans seem to think they have to fulfill.  

Focusing on those with jobs as reporters, and myself included as I am focusing on reporting as a journalism major in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, there are many rules and codes we have to follow. One line we do not cross? Becoming emotionally attached to the subjects in our stories. 

It’s hard to remember that journalists are human beings too. We are not mechanical cyborgs who can permanently block out feelings and ignore the connections we make with those going through a time of need.

Where is that emotional line drawn

In an older yet notable article by Los Angeles Times writer Howard Rosenburg, this issue is addressed.

Rosenburg’s subject, Anna Song, a well-distinguished member of the KATU “coverage team” in Portland, Oregon, became emotionally attached to the story she was covering about two teenagers who were murdered.

Song was asked to give a eulogy at a public memorial service for Ashley Pond, 12, and Miranda Gaddis, 13, who were the teenagers that were kidnapped and murdered in Oregon City. Rosenburg described Song as, “tender, she was compassionate, and there was no cause to question her sincerity. Only her judgement.”

If Song was a family friend, an acquaintance, a police officer, teacher, anything but herself, this beautiful and heartwarming eulogy wouldn’t be frowned upon by journalists who follow and take pride in the journalism ethics codes. But Song was not an ordinary person who knew the victims personally. Song was a reporter. A reporter emotionally and physically attached to this story.
“However well meaning, in other words, 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,” said Rosenburg.

Photo Credit: theoriginalwinger.com

When Song crossed the line, she didn’t become a bad reporter, but by doing so, she furthered herself from becoming an example of how a noteworthy reporter should act.

Being a student and recognizing the blurred line of an ethical reporter from a nonethical one, I’ve learned a life lesson and developed another level of respect for principled reporters.

Honorable reporters are strong, not because they want to be, but because they have to be. To me, that’s a superpower. It doesn’t make reporters any less human, emotional or compassionate; it makes reporters tough and ambitious. We are not mechanical; we are committed to following the ethics codes.   

“Reporters are not hired to write columns or commentaries," Rosenberg said. "They report stories, which are meant to exclude opinion."

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