When I was 2 years old, I tripped running down my driveway which resulted in a trip to the hospital and five stitches on the chin.
On the ride there, my sister cried hysterically because she had gotten stitches a few months prior and said she knew what was coming.
She cried because she knew and understood the pain that I was about to endure. At 5 years old, my sister taught me what it meant to be empathetic and to have the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
While empathy floods our personal lives, and is valued by some, not all can see past the “sensitivity” of what it means to be empathetic, and as a journalist, it is one of the most vital parts of informing the public.
Some of the hallmarks of good journalism are objective reporting, truth telling, and an honest presentation of facts. However, the one that is missing from that list is empathy.
Empathy is a way of stepping into another person’s shoes to understand their perspective. As humans, we have an inherit responsibility to be empathetic towards one another. As a journalist, the emphasis of this responsibility creates a well-rounded perspective.
Amidst the political climate standing hostile and divided, there’s a need for mutual understanding. The root of the problem starts with reporting on the diverse perspectives and ideals, rather than projecting already established views.
The problem is not a division of “fake news” and “real news,” but rather the separation of what is being reported and what is being ignored.
While it is widely debated, it is possible to practice empathetic journalism without forfeiting objectivity. This is possible because it creates an understanding between the reporter and the subject, not an agreement.
The act of empathy forces reporters to step outside the digital engagement of social media connections and online polls and into the communities being reported on.
This understanding directs the focus back to the ground level stories that impact local communities, rather than official stories of politics, government, law, and crime.
The role of the reporter actively listening to public comment allows the minorities and marginalized groups to have an active voice in the public arena, as well as maintain an honest and mutual trust between the media and the public.
Empathy starts in creating a diverse newsroom of challenging ideals and perspectives that actively represents the public dialogue by seeking truth through active listening.
The public seeks representation, not coverage, and without empathy, the media serves merely as a source of information, rather than a representative of the community.
As those who write the first draft of history, we owe it to the honor of truth to understand the views of the opposing forces jockeying for control of our society. We must understand them, and we must hold them accountable.