Standing in the early dawn, on a bridge looking down on a scene of destruction and death, I remember the silence. It was not like the movie scenes of noise and shouting and chaos and screaming. Instead there was a stillness and silence which was completely unexpected. The Selby rail crash killed 10, injured many more and left a legacy some will never escape from. I stood with my producer looking down on the scene, not long after it had happened. There were shoes, briefcases, people, warped metal, phones, coats, bottles, seats, glass, strewn across the fields. It was a sight most people never have to endure. But as a journalist, this is to be expected. You are a first responder, heading off to terrible situations, expected to get there fast, and deliver what’s happening.
Journalists are expected to be dispassionate, calm, professional and objective, so I did what I always did at the scene of terrible stories, I put my emotions to one side and got on with my job.
Except it’s not that easy. It’s not possible for any human to lock away an emotional response over and over and over, and remain strong and resilient.
I’ve covered court cases with evidence so gut wrenchingly awful it can’t be reported, I’ve spent days and days with victims of the 9/11 terrorists attacks and heard harrowing stories about the moment of impact, I’ve held the hand of mothers who’ve discovered their children have been killed, abducted or attacked, I’ve stood for over 18 hours in a cherry picker over the Paddington rail crash and watched the terrible events below.… the list goes on. Each one of these required complete control over emotion. I used my emotion to help me. I may have cried at night sometimes, I may never have discussed the emotion with anyone for fear of being told I was weak, but I’ve used the emotion. But not to crumble and sob on air, rather to focus my mind on what matters, and how important it is to tell the world what I am witnessing.
I’ve been researching emotion in reporting, and my findings from interviewing journalists, is just as I expected. Emotion is a dirty word in newsrooms. Express it, as a journalist, in any shape or form and you risk being labelled unfit for the job, weak and a risk to objectivity.
But my research uncovered views which challenge this idea- that emotion can actually fuel a journalists’ desire to get to the facts. If harnessed and understood, emotion can play a role.
You can read more on this in an article published today by JournalismKX.
I provide guest lectures on trauma and emotion, I also offer mentoring on this to anyone who wants to develop their skills in situations which demand emotions are packed away. To find out more, or to enquire please email: