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Balancing objectivity with compassion

One of the first things you learn in journalism is that you want to keep your stories factual and objective and you keep your emotions out of it. This usually isn’t a problem for me but I’ll admit that I am very glad I don’t report on the City of Seattle and I am especially glad that I am not a TV news reporter.

For anyone who may not know, a man went on a shooting rampage in the city and killed four people and critically wounded two others. The suspect, Ian Lee Stawicki, then turned the gun on himself but did not succeed in killing himself and was last reported to be in critical as well. I won’t get into the gory details. You can read about them here.

Just reading the reports and watching the evening news was difficult as I thought about the senselessness of Stawicki’s actions. I admit I got a little teary eyed.

This is why I am glad I don’t report for Seattle. I don’t think I would have been able to keep my emotions in check and I’m pretty sure crying onscreen is a big no-no and heavily frowned upon for obvious reasons: It’s just not professional.

This makes me happy to be a print reporter because there have been stories we’ve printed where I’ve shed a few tears. Fortunately, readers can’t see this unless they’re right there in my office with me as I write and/or edit the story, and that would just be weird.

I can’t help it. It may take a lot to offend or hurt me, but I’m a huge sap. I start boohooing while reading sports stories (it’s happened multiple times) as well as tragic crime stories and start shedding tears when I catch videos of military families reuniting.

I’m not sure what this says about me as a reporter, since we’re supposed to remain objective and supposedly grow more jaded the longer we spend in the business. Since I’m still pretty green and have only been in the industry for a few years, it may just mean that the sappiness hasn’t been knocked out of me yet.

Personally, I hope that doesn’t happen.

As amusing as it may be to see the old, curmudgeonly reporter mock and make wisecracks at others’ expenses, I really hope I don’t turn into that. I’m sure I’ll have my moments and I will harden up at least a little bit. But I like the fact that I’m human and not completely unfeeling. And as objective as we’re supposed to be as journalists, I think it’s also important to have some compassion for our subjects.

If not for anything else, at least it would help us understand them and report on them better.

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