The week that was

A journalist’s workspace (just add dirty ashtray and manual typewriter). Photo by Jennifer Deseo.

The bottom of the bottle is a lonely place. Never mind that the label declares 100 oblong, orange tablets, or that a single 200-milligram dose is enough to knead a knotted muscle. When that last taste of sweet, sweet ibuprofen is gone, the bottom of that white plastic bottle may as well be the vacuum of space — cold and quiet, filled with nothing but one’s own bone-crushing self-awareness.

So how is one supposed to endure the national migraine of rapid-fire executive orders, protests and more protests, and the president’s upcoming speech before Congress? Sure, more over-the-counter painkillers can be acquired, but social journalist Viki Muench recommends a drug-free approach: cowboy up.

“I started seeing this new presidency as a challenge to contribute something to the world that would hopefully make a difference,” she wrote in her latest Medium post for the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. “I may not be a Trump supporter, but as a social journalist, I feel like it is my duty to understand and serve everyone, no matter who they are or what they believe in.”

The idea that journalism is meant to reach everyone, even the most marginalized (or self-exiled) communities, is rooted in empathy, or one’s ability “to fully hear the challenges of the people you are interviewing,” says social journalist Charlie Michio. Theoretically, empathy should allow journalists to engage all members of society:

But empathy isn’t easy. It demands that one recognize the preconceptions developed over time, something that social journalist Melissa DiPento observed. “This is not inherently easy,” she wrote on Medium, “but it’s necesssary.… We can’t change how we look or what our past was like, but what we can do is value others through listening.”

It also requires one to recognize that humans are emotional beings who aren’t always guided by logic, and whose stories don’t necessarily follow a linear narrative. In their respective Medium posts, social journalists Monty Kataria and Jessica Brockington allude to the emotions that fuel political protests and online discussions, and how those emotions can either build or destroy a community.

“Despite growing journalistic wisdom around community engagement, when that engagement comes in the form of neighbors commenting, it is disenfranchising and scary,” Brockington wrote.

The real trick for the journalist then is to anchor one’s listening skills in logic, while lending one’s emotional ear to the unspoken word. Pulling this off may mean not being a journalist, if only briefly.

“What is journalism without the human element?” social journalist Kristine Villanueva argues on Medium. “We must remember that although we are journalists, we are human first.”