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We mourn Rita, but let’s not wail louder than the bereaved

There is one golden rule for delivering a eulogy: Keep it as brief as possible, bearing in mind that you are not the only person with a story to tell about the deceased.

Two, limit the number of people queuing to deliver eulogies. This, or you would have everyone making speeches from dawn to dusk. Plus, it is insensitive to grieving families when every Tom, Dick, and Harry – especially Harry – goes on and on and on, purporting to know the deceased more than the family and friends, when all they want is some silent space to ponder.

All these gems on delivering eulogies are especially important when the bereaved family expressly requests for privacy to grieve quietly.

Still, covering death can be a deeply emotional experience in any newsroom. This is specially so when there is a connection between the subject and the journalist.

The Centre for Journalism Ethics proposes three golden rules for journalists on how to handle emotions in the newsroom without ending up wailing more than the bereaved.

One, use emotions proportionately, do not let emotional stories dominate news coverage and overshadow critical analysis.

Two, test emotions. Remember that as a journalist, you keep your emotions balanced with the hard job that you need to keep doing, being a journalist.

Number three is crucial. Journalists should not use emotions to make themselves the centre of the story and to engage in self-congratulation. “In an era where the use of media is ‘all about me’, disaster coverage needs to move in the opposite direction by focusing on the story, not the storytellers.”

Number three can be summarised thus: Avoid too many “I” stories. I know…I feel…I met….I… I.

A quick scan of the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism also reveals more gems on handling emotions in the newsroom, including clearly labelling opinion and commentary.

Away from these confusing isms of handling emotions in the newsroom, there is a famous story tucked somewhere inside the rich oral literature traditions of our forefathers about fellows that wail louder than the bereaved.

It is an interesting story, depending on who is telling it. But in a nutshell, it warns that the lamentations of the fellow that is wailing the loudest in a burial, and who is not kin to the deceased, ought to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Or maybe, such a fellow is a professional mourner – rolling and screaming and speaking in tongues and running up and down the bereaved family’s homestead like one possessed – while keeping one eye open on the food or some cash, some attention, an audience.

We at Mediascape take this chance to condole with the family and friends of Rita Tinina, a renowned journalist who, from the torrents of tributes, no doubt touched many lives. We knew her, but despite our refined English, we lack enough words to mourn her.

As soon as the sad news of Rita’s passing broke, her family requested for privacy, and even thanked the media, way back, for the kind words about their daughter.

Perhaps this was our cue to stop wailing louder than the bereaved? Or did we?

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