Much has been made in recent days about the extent to which journalists should get personally involved with the story that they’re working on. Perhaps weary of the relentless coverage of Gaza’s ongoing war, the media has turned its focus inwards.
The British independent broadcaster Channel 4’s veteran-newsreader Jon Snow kicked off the debate with a piece to camera – published online but not broadcast by the channel – about children affected by the Gaza conflict. And while few who’ve been there could have failed to be touched by his impassioned plea to “do something” there were plenty who said that he had overstepped the mark, crossing some invisible line of impartiality we are all supposed to stay behind.
The reaction, on the other hand, to a tearful breakdown by UN-spokesman Chris Gunness in an interview with Al Jazeera was almost uniformly sympathetic. Of course we shouldn’t hold PR people to the same standards as those who bring us the news but I still find the gap in responses strange, considering both men’s job is to tell the rest of the world what atrocities are being committed against a largely innocent civilian population. They are, as the saying goes, only human. It is not just on screen that this is an issue. But a lack of regulation of the print media makes it easier to impart emotion in written articles, and anyway, it's more expected.
Fellow reporters used to compliment me on the way my personality shone through in the stories I produced for radio – the time I got genuinely excited on tape as I searched for the egg of a particularly rare type of Dutch bird, or my audible delight (even though I had a cold) at tasting pomegranate sorbet in Jenin in the West Bank. Maybe people don’t mind so much when a journalist is expressing positive emotion and not the pain they’re feeling after watching another bomb drop. Is it that the latter makes us uncomfortable?
Whatever the reason, if journalism is about storytelling then it is also about people. And while you don’t want to become the story, sometimes it is impossible not to be touched by it and that can be a good thing, even if it’s sometimes hard to hear. That’s how we know – when we’re watching the news or listening to a report and are confronted with a journalist’s raw emotion – that they’re being honest, and that what we see on our screens isn’t just a bunch of moving images. It’s happening to someone and we should care.
Marijke Peters is a producer for Monocle 24.