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!