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Home > Publications > Quill > Prediction: Come On, Feel Something


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Monday, February 22, 2016
Prediction: Come On, Feel Something

A selection from Nieman Lab's 2016 prediction series

By P. Kim Bui

In 2015, we talked about vicarious trauma, the mental health of newsrooms and the people within them. The public was outraged, and then our reporting on outrage became cliché.

Before, we built a wall between ourselves and our emotions in the name of being unbiased. Journalism was fact, inverted pyramid. It spoke to you from on high and told you what was truth. Whether you want to believe people’s consumption habits changed, or the recession ate the heart out of newsrooms and small online operations picked up the pieces, we are now in a different age.

For a year, I’ve covered disasters, protests and the swell of refugees crossing brutal seas to find a new home. On social media, we now accept that sources, the public and officials are telling their own stories — sometimes in first person, sometimes not. They weave narratives, and we now filter for the truth and make sense of the chaos of information.

In 2016, we may have a year of empathy. We may find our hearts and emotions again and use them.

There’s a lack of empathy going around the world that shocks us. We are shocked at the lack of empathy for refugees as European nations close their doors. After the Paris attacks, my Facebook feed was full of friends demanding why the media (seemingly) didn’t cover an earlier attack in Beirut. For all the anger in the world, there seems to be less understanding of one another.

This year, I came face to face with my empathy, and in quiet moments I examined it. I asked myself what I could do better as a journalist to help those I saw. I realized my job is to show audiences parts of the world and the people within them they need to see, for better or worse, and I needed to keep my eyes and heart open to do that. It’s not easy letting emotions flow, but it’s honestly a relief once you do so.

We can no longer stand by and say we are not a part of the story. It is OK to reach out to the person stumbling in a war zone and help. I once heard Nick Ut said he never regretted helping the young woman in the photo he was so famous for.

We don’t have to take a stand, but we should take a perspective. After all, we are human. Empathy takes time, as Caitlin Dewey noted last month, and in the age of social media, that is hard. It takes longer to report on a story with empathy. But it is a worthwhile choice. Empathy could improve the mental health of newsrooms, allowing us to say to one another that we were angered, bothered, saddened by something, and work through that with each other and our audiences.

Is your newsroom ready? Do you know how to deal with emotion, or do you lock it away with the promise of a drink and a few morbid jokes later? Is it OK to cry? It’s time to confront our human sides.

Imagine a news organization that helps you find shelter after a storm, and then helped you talk to your kids about what happened. Imagine an app that makes comments an actual discussion, not a flame war. Imagine an email newsletter where replies get thoughtfully replied to. That’s empathy. Now go use it.

P. Kim Bui is deputy managing editor of Reported.ly. On Twitter: @kimbui

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