Journalists Aren’t Humans — They’re Journalists

I respectfully disagree.

#IAmMuslimToo Protest — Photo by Kristine Villanueva

Advanced reporting at Rutgers — Newark was one of the most dynamic classes I had in my undergraduate career, namely because the director of the program was open to answering tough questions about journalism. A classmate of mine asked her whether or not journalists were able to help people in a crisis while on assignment. The fundamentals of journalism dictate that journalists must be silent observers, rigid in objectivity. I was sure that she would agree — but she didn’t. While she said that values differ for everyone, if you don’t consider yourself a human being first, then you’re in the wrong business.

As a Social Journalism student at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, I’m beginning to truly understand the importance of valuing the impact that journalists can have in their communities. It goes beyond extending compassion while reporting in the field.

Too often do journalists appear invasive, creating fragile connections then disappearing after a project is completed. Journalists tend to think that giving communities a platform is enough, even if what comes next is a mystery. If the goal isn’t to contribute to social change then what are journalists here for?

The impact is much harder to achieve while working with communities that are new to the reporter. But there are ways to engage people to better understand them. Surprise: it starts with personal connections first. 
NPR’s Leila Day explains how to, essentially, be human. (Journalists forget sometimes).

  1. Engage as a person, not just as a reporter.
  2. Identify your own preconceived notions about people or places. Everyone has them. We simply need to recognize them.
  3. Avoid the radiosplaining, or over-explaining a cultural phenomenon with the assumption that the person you’re engaging with is unfamiliar with the topic.

Day’s tips might be challenging traditional philosophies rooted in journalism but journalism must evolve beyond tradition. As much as they like to claim their detachment, once journalists report in a community, they are a part of that community whether they like it or not. Journalists must progress beyond the echo chambers we’ve created and focus on contributing meaningful impact in the communities we serve. What is journalism without the human element? We must remember that although we are journalists, we are human first.