Thursday, June 18, 2015

It's Horrendous! Horrific!

I was down in the gym this morning, watching Fox News' coverage of the mass shootings at the church in Charleston, South Carolina, when two reporters in a row stepped on a raw nerve.  One reporter referred to the shootings as "horrendous;" the other, as "horrific." 

When I worked with young reporters on writing and presentation, I spent a lot of time on removing judgement from their stories, but managing it in their presentation of those stories. 

For example, a reporter covering the story of a search for a missing child might write:  "Thankfully, the child was found" or "Sadly, the searchers found the child's body."  I would submit that "thankfully" and "sadly" are the reporter's judgement on the news that the child was found. It is something that someone who is involved or invested in the story ...a member or friend of the child's family,  or a member of the search team ...might say.  It is not something an objective outsider, reporting on the story, should say.

In fairness, one might argue that a reporter cannot be expected to report on an emotional story like that without being affected by it.
I agree. That is why I urged them to remove judgement from their stories, while managing it in their presentation.

Taking the same story as an example, the reporter shouldn't say that one outcome is good news, or another is bad. What he can do, though, is use his expression and voice to convey those judgements. Telling one version of a story with a happy face, with good pace, moderate to high volume, a wide range of highs and lows, and lots of inflection will convey happiness;  conversely, telling another version with a sad face, a slower pace, low to moderate volume, a narrower range of highs and lows, and less inflection will convey sadness.

Try it for yourself.  Try reading out loud to a group of kids.  If you really want to capture their attention, you will not simply read the words.  You will bring the story to life with the animation of your face and vocal tools like volume, pitch, pace, and inflection. The kids will know when to be happy, sad, or scared ...not because you tell them, but from the physical and vocal cues you give them.

I don't need a reporter to tell me that a mass shooting in a house of God is "horrendous" or "horrific." But I don't mind if he lets me know that that's what he thinks, by the way he tells the story.