Empathy and the American journalist

It says something about journalism that the notion that reporters shouldn’t be afraid to show empathy and compassion is a debatable point. But it is.

This week, as readers of NewsCut know, it’s one of the issues at the heart of Radiolab’s woes after the podcast crew created the “Yellow Rain” episode, which has caused considerable backlash from its audience for the way it treated a Minnesota survivor of genocide.

Coincidentally — and only coincidentally as near as I can tell — a teacher Augustana College in Sioux Falls writes today about compassion and empathy by journalists on the Poynter website

It’s time to surrender: Journalism education should incorporate the study of empathy and compassion alongside its study of the objective method. The objective reporter who integrates into his or her work an empathetic, compassionate approach does not face irreconcilable demands. The compassionate act, one that seeks to alleviate suffering, often follows a process that starts with empathy, i.e., the moment within which one connects with the other in an effort to see through his or her eyes, to know something through its meaning for that person.

When journalists practice an ethic of empathy and compassion, they do not forfeit their objectivity. Empathy seeks to understand the other, not produce agreement with the other. For this reason, empathy compels fair treatment of all sources.

Just as one should empathize with the poor person, he or she should empathize with the public official. For the journalist compelled by a moral compass, the writer who seeks justice in the world, empathy can make visible the lives of those who are marginalized and misunderstood and in so doing transform the act of reporting into an act of compassion.

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