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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Thoughts on my “Vox Asks Columbians” assignment

Last weekend, I had the task of completing Vox’s weekly “Vox Asks Columbians” segment for the Sept. 17 issue with a fellow reporter. Overall, it was kind of fun walking around Columbia and asking people about their thoughts on our question: “What television show or shows are you most excited for this fall?” Sure, at times when we were struggling to find enough responses, it seemed like I kept asking myself “Will ANYBODY talk to us?” But it was an interesting experience, nonetheless.

One thing that kept happening which I thought was pretty funny a common response we got from Columbia’s citizens. When we first started out and collecting responses, I hypothesized that a common response we would get a lot would be a straight-up decline to talk (which did occur a lot, don’t get me wrong). But a response I remember getting numerous times was something to the effect of “Oh…I really don’t watch television all that much.” In this day-and-age of smart phones and subscription services like Netflix and Hulu, it’s interesting to see this decrease in the general public up close and personal.

Hello World!

Hello world! I owe it to you, the readers, that you know me beyond a name on your computer screen. So I will throw you all a bone and let you know a little bit about myself. I was born on June 17th, 1995 in Oak Lawn, Illinois and was raised in Homer Glen, IL for the first 18 years of my life. Homer Glen is a little suburb southwest of the city of Chicago by about 40 miles.

My family consists of my mom, dad and my sister, all of whom I love dearly and owe the world to. As a kid, above all, I loved having fun: Hanging out with my friends, playing sports, watching cartoons, listening to music, everything. I was just out to have an adventure in this crazy world we live in.

I was so focused on having fun that I never really gave any thought with what I wanted to do for a career. That answer at least became a little clearer in high school when I decided in my junior year I was going to pursue a journalism degree in college. Following stints on high school newspapers, sports websites and college campus radio stations, I find myself on my next adventure writing for Vox Magazine and the Columbia Missourian…and I intend to make the most of it.

The J4450 Journey Begins…

In the spirit of the new semester, I am starting back up the old “jbhdzb” blog I frequented freshman year. As part of my J4450 News Reporting class, I will be sharing my thoughts, accomplishments, struggles and general musings on every aspect of the class itself.

The first week of class is over and I intend to really hit hard and nail down the laws of the Missourian…starting immediately with the syllabus. I know a good chunk of the Missourian’s policies, but in this business where fact is the number one priority and being wrong is not an option, knowing the Missourian’s policies feels like a top priority in this stage of the game.

Let’s get to work…

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Chasing the Dream

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Austin Hough, a sophomore pre-journalism student at the University of Missouri, has a dream of one day becoming a sports broadcaster and journalist. To get one step closer, Hough has dedicated a large portion of his time to working at MUTV, the student-run campus television station. Because of his dedication, he has become one of seven sports executives and hosts his own show called “Triple Play, a sports-dominated game show.

When he isn’t studying or sleeping, Hough is constantly refining and perfecting his show. “I take a lot of pride in working at MUTV. It’s a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. I’m probably going to end up staying late again tonight.”

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Granted, this level of dedication has it’s downfalls, but Hough is not shaken in pursuing his journalistic dreams. “It’s a lot of hard work, and a lot of the executives have lost a lot of sleep, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything.”

ONA Ferguson Keynote Blog

On Thursday September 25th, I sat in on a live stream broadcast of the Online News Association’s (ONA) conference and awards banquet held at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago, Illinois. The event, lasting from the 25th to the 27th, was opened by a keynote titled “All Eyes on Ferguson, MO.” The session featured Michel Martin of National Public Radio (NPR) as the moderator, asking the five speakers to recall their unique experiences from the hectic chaos that occurred just a short month and a half ago in the St. Louis suburb. The speakers were, in no particular order, David Carson, Trymaine Lee, Wesley Lowery, Mariah Stewart and Claire Ward.

For a majority of the reporters, social media and local reporting is what brought their attention to Ferguson. Lowery, a Washington Post political correspondent, cited the journalistic work of News One reporter Brittany Noble as his attention-getter. Carson, a staff photographer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, highlighted that he believed local coverage of the events is what drew national media to the suburb of Ferguson. It was noted that because of the rioting and damage around the area, power and cable went out for many residents. These residents were able to keep up with and stay aware through social media coverage from various sources. Ward stated that her coverage for VICE News received this kind of attention.

Overall, I enjoyed the concept of the keynote and getting the perspectives of various journalists. Hearing from national and local reporters and photographers gave a unique inside look from different newsrooms.

You are NOT the Killer: The Story of Ryan Ferguson

Not only in Missouri, but national media has been led back to the case of Ryan Ferguson. Ferguson, 29, was convicted of the murder of Kent Heitolt, a sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune. According to Ferguson’s friend Chuck Erickson in a 2004 police confession, both men we’re looking for someone to rob for alcohol money in the early morning hours of Nov. 1st, 2001. They happened upon Heitolt in the CDT parking lot and (allegedly) beat him senseless and strangled him with Heitolt’s own belt. Ferguson was convicted in 2005 to a 40-year term, while Erickson accepted a plea deal for 25 years. However, Erickson retracted his story in April of 2012, stating that his memory of the night was hazy from using various drugs and alcohol. Through appeals court, Ferguson was freed of all charges on Nov. 5th.

Modern society is a culture where an accused is “Guilty until proven innocent.” A vicious and relentless cycle similar to an average episode of Maury: One side of a story is brought up, and the audience is automatically against the enemy of the guest. The enemy of the guest is brought out and is hounded and berated by the audience, even after telling their side of the story that they say is the truth. Granted, most of the instances of accusation are the truthful side of the story. But occasionally, like in the case of Ferguson, the accuser is the liar, and the public (audience) is played for saps.

The truth comes out, whether it’s by a paternity test or an accuser recanting his statement, eventually. When I become a journalist, one of the precautions I would take in a story like this is to be aware of the tone of the story and picture I’m painting in the reader’s head. A few changes in words can make a martyr into a pariah. The power of words can change a man’s life in the eyes of the public forever, even to the day that his name is cleared in the legal system. In some eyes, he’s still the killer.