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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.

Second That Emotion

September 24th, 2001

I want to continue on this idea of the role that emotion plays in the broadcast journalist's arsenal of tools.

We often hear one of two contradictory messages when it comes to expressing emotions in our stories. One school holds that emotion has no place in our work.

After all we are supposed to be the cool, calm, and collected reporters of fact as it happens. The other school holds the simplistic notion that if it's a sad story you are telling, you should affect a sad voice and face or if it is a light story, the opposite. Neither of these approaches is very realistic when it comes to the emotional content of your work. I mentioned in the last installment that getting experience in a therapy group, an acting class or similar arrangement could be useful. Let me be clear on this: this is not to say that you have to be suffering from emotional problems to engage in this kind of training. To the contrary, if these shades and variations of our communication are to be used, you will have to be pretty much together. But what is interesting about the actor's approach to story telling is that the emotions - whether they are anger, silliness, saddness, fear or the like - are the tools of their trade. Yes, they work from a script (just like journalists), and yes, they have cues and schedules to hit (just like journalists), and yes, for their words to mean anything to their audience, they have to be connected to an emotional reality, emphasis on 'reality'.

So at the risk of repeating myself, the way our strong emotions work is that they creep up on us, they move us, and at times even, they overwhelm us. In other words, they often leak out despite our best efforts to hold them back. This is not only appropriate, it is human.

As a journalist, you have a job to do: organize facts, set them in a context, explain complexity, and to be effective, you must connect with your audience. Do your journalistic work, and be aware of what your emotions are doing. When they cloud into the picture, you don't automatically get excused from your duties, you have to integrate what your genuine feelings are into the very important work you have to do.

A client of mine at a large Spanish language station on the east coast reviewed a report she had done from Acapulco after the devastating floods there. She was actually reporting from the neighborhood in which she had grown up, and it was now virtually destroyed. As she wound through the complex information on the flood, her own emotions began to bubble forth, and toward the end of the piece, she was barely holding back her own tears. Her evaluation of the work was that it was terrible, unprofessional, amateur - after all, it was her job, she thought, to keep it all together for her audience. But a poll of the rest of her co-workers around the monitor revealed to a person that they thought it was some of her best work. She neither fell apart as a blubbering, sobbing mess nor did she ignore the emotional depth of the story.

One of the most amazing things about reporters is their unshakable instinct to complete their stories, no matter how the world is falling down around them.

In doing her work, albeit with the 'intrusion' of her own emotions, my client reported a dimension of the story that would not have been there with a cool recitation of statistics. In fact the story was a powerful and moving document of not only the mere facts of the story, but of the emotional dimension of it as well.

This has to be extraordinarily true this week for all the broadcast journalists who have to report on the enormity of the tragedy that took place in New York, and by and large, the performances have been very touching. Until next time, breathe deeply!