Crying on the job

Warning: The following (most likely) is a few paragraphs of unpopular opinions in the world of journalism professionals. These are just some thoughts from a random dude on the Internet. Any attempts to take these opinions too seriously will be handled accordingly…not! Seriously though, just my opinions, I am not gospel.

Yesterday during lecture, the topic of life stories came up. Interviewing a family member or friend after their loved one has passed is never an easy task. My hat is off to anyone in the News Reporting class, past or present, that has had to undertake this job.

As with any other vexing and emotionally draining activity, the situation of crying was brought up. Many other students in class brought up some very thought-provoking standards they believe when it comes to this topic. Ideas ranged from “It’s okay to support a subject if they need a moment or a tissue, but you should try your best to keep your composure” to “It’s almost selfish to cry when you’re interviewing a subject because you’re making it about you, rather than them.”

Here are my thoughts: I feel the mindset of “I must remain a rock, I must remain strong for the source” is only a stone’s throw away from “I am a heartless human being. I am devoid of emotion and empathy, as well as sympathy. I do not know how to support another human being in need during one of the most stressful times of their life.” Maybe I stand as an army of one, but I feel that it’s okay to shed a tear during an interview with a source. You’re allowed to look sad. You’re allowed to empathize with a source. Just because you have taken a “journalist’s vow” to be an “unbiased and shining beacon of truth” doesn’t mean you have to strip your human self of what makes you human.

The more I learn about journalism here at MU, as well as learning about other human beings and life itself in my short 20 years on this planet, the more I learn that there seems to ALWAYS be a hidden agenda. You can claim that you are unbiased, you can claim to give both sides of the story their fair shake, but you cannot strip your human self of opinion, as well as emotion. Humans get happy. Humans get angry. Humans feel anxious. And above all, humans can be forced to emotional extremes. We find something so enjoyable and ridiculous, we start to “laugh” uncontrollably. We find ourselves in uncomfortable situations, and our body responds by flushing blood to our face just beneath the epidermis of the skin. We start to sweat a bit too along with it, and we call this feeling “embarrassment” or “nervousness.” And finally, the topic of this blog post, sometimes humans feel overcome with “emotion” (using that as a broad term, because humans can be driven to reach this state by any number of ways). Through anger, fear or sadness, our tear ducts work up and we start to cry.

One school of thought I heard that stirred me uncomfortably was “it makes a source feel awkward” or “you’re making them feel weird.”

When did our culture decide that “empathy” was a bad thing? When did other journalists develop a mantra that “if you are expressing emotion when talking to a source, you’re being a bad journalist?” I don’t see the label as “journalist” as a label to strip you of your right to feel emotion.

I am not about to compare myself to a trauma victim or someone who has lost their loved one. All I’m saying is, if I started telling a story about myself that stirs the listener to grow sad, begin to shed a tear, or just start bawling cry, I don’t think “HOW DARE THIS PERSON CRY! THIS IS ABOUT ME! ME! ME!” or “Dude…why are you crying? You should be a journalist and not feel emotion. You’re essentially a robot, right?”

You know what I would do if that situation would happen? I would use the golden rule: I would want to comfort that person, help them get back on track, and let them get that emotion out. That is what I would want someone to do to me if the roles were reversed. We’re all unique individuals with unique stories, experiences and emotions. Sometimes, we need to help each other out to get back on our feet toward whatever great wide open we’re going toward once we’ve breathed our last breath on this Earth.

I don’t view “crying” during an interview as being a bad journalist. I view letting your profession tell you how to let yourself act, against your will, as being a bad journalist. And a bad human being.


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