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Should journalists cry? Take care of your mental health

Journalists are not made of steel. They are human beings.

Like Shakespeare’s Jews in The Merchants of Venice would say: when you prick them, they bleed.  When you tickle them they laugh. If you poison them, they will die and if you wrong them, they shall revenge.

And so it was that sometime this month, a team of journalists gathered for a mental health workshop.

The stories shared captured the pain that scribes go through in line of duty – from working unpaid for months to having to file stories under trees.

A panel of counsellors and mental health experts listened to the woes of the people of the media and did their best to offer some nuggets of wisdom.

“It is okay not to be okay – you are not robots or machines.”

“Do not carry emotional baggage – it is not good for you.”

“Take time to go see a counsellor. There is nothing to be ashamed of in asking for help.”

The Centre for Journalism Ethics’ School of Journalism and Mass Communication rubbishes the argument that journalists must remain detached when covering emotive subjects.

“The idea that journalists must be detached and neutral in the middle of chaos is outdated and wrong. In a disaster zone, journalists are not neutral observers. They are part of the world’s response, an essential communication channel for the rescue effort, and for the raising of funds for humanitarian agencies.”

Showing emotions, the school argues, is actually good for journalism.

“The choice is not between aloof objective reporting and caring, emotional journalism. In journalism, the emotional and the objective impulses should converge.

“The emotions provide motivation for journalists and encourage public engagement. The deep emotions aroused by tragedy can motivate journalists to dig further into the story. Stories that report the plight and emotional fragility of victims attract the attention of the world and summon help.”

But emotions must never overshadow objectivity.

“Yet the emotions that motivate reporters need to be tested and channelled by the desire to be objective – the desire to verify, and to base stores on facts, expert knowledge, varying perspectives, and historical context.”

Still, good journalism must display some humanity.

“Journalism based only on a studied neutrality is not only an inhuman attitude toward a disaster. It fails to tell the full story.”

And as journalist go to the field to cover all kinds of emotive stories, including death, they remind us that it is okay to cry with the subjects they cover.

“A journalism of disasters is not a journalism of Olympian detachment. It is not a journalism fixated on stimulating the emotions of audiences. It is a humanistic journalism that combines reason and emotion. Humanistic journalists bring empathy to bear on the victims of tragedy – an empathy informed by facts and critical analysis.”

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