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
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,