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Jon Beaupré is a voice and performance consultant for radio and television performers. Under the name Broadcast Voice, he provides private training and workshops for reporters, anchors, sports and weather casters, and others working in electronic and broadcast media. He teaches in the Broadcast Communications program at California State University at Los Angeles, and conducts workshops and seminars with the Associated Press Radio and Television Association. He has been a fixture on the convention circuit, teaching workshops at a wide range of specialty journalism and broadcast conventions and stations on both coasts of the U.S.

Your Delivery during a disaster

September 17th, 2001

The horrific images we watched unfold in New York and Washington challenge journalists like few other stories. For better or worse, these are the ones that make and break careers; it is not crass to say that we love this kind of coverage. After all, it is not crass to say we love a tragic opera or a sad song. For me, the fact that I have the privilege of telling the details of this story to my listeners is a sacred trust. With that in mind, here are some reflections on reporting stories with very high emotional content.

1. Don't in any way try to match your emotional tone to your story thus: it's a light story = be light and cheerful, it's a sad story = be somber and serious. It inevitably rings hollow and makes the reporter look like the air-heads we have come to expect reporting from our TV screens.

2. Here is the reality about emotion: if you are not 'in touch' with your emotions in your civilian life, you won't be in touch with them when you are on the air. Do the emotional work required (therapy, acting classes, improv groups, etc.) to become familiar with your own emotions and not be afraid of them, then...

3. when you report a tough emotional story, concentrate on the work you have to do, the details, the sights, sounds, smells and reality of the faces you cover. So, if your emotions begin to bubble through, and you have a genuine emotional experience, you will neither pander to those emotions nor fight them. Just let them flow as they would in your 'real' life (that is to say, off camera!).

4. The interesting thing about how emotions function in our daily lives is that in general, we try to keep them under guard. This is for personal protection, safety, a way to buffer ourselves from the difficulties of the world. Normal people rarely aim to have 'an emotional moment'. Those emotional moments happen to them, and they react accordingly. Under those circumstances, when your normal emotions spill through to the surface while you are covering a powerful or traumatic story, we often see the most heroic and most moving coverage a reporter can provide.

So in summary, DON'T aim for an emotional result. Instead, be in touch with your own emotions, whatever that takes. Then DO THE WORK - give your audience the 5 w's, the five senses, and the 'so-what' of the story, and if by some magic, your emotions catch up with you, be wise enough to use them as the tools of your trade. It takes practice. We'll talk more about that in future installments. Till then, breathe deeply!