Thursday, March 26, 2009

Empathy? Sympathy? What's the Difference?

Setting aside empathy as a journalistic value, I think that empathy is an inherent human value, unless you are a serial killer or something. I know that it's hard to think of journalists as human, but most of us still have hearts and could not sit by the wayside while villages in Vietnam were being bombed with napalm. Journalistic speaking, I think that empathy fits well with the SPJ code of minimizing harm. The code of ethics encourages journalists to show compassion, to be sensitive, and to treat sources with respect.

I read the intro to the book that Nancy passed around class on Tuesday, "Compassion Fatigue," which talks about the way in which news people handle international crisis. Moeller suggests that the media packages international news in a way that sensationalizes those stories to catch our attention, then simplify those stories to images that we will remember. For example the picture of a starving child in Ethiopia, or the woman running down the road with napalm burns, or even as we mentioned in class, the photos taken at Guantanamo. She emphasizes that this simplification of news is attributed to the nature of our society, we have societal ADD, if a story runs longer than 15 minutes we loose interest. Have you ever wondered why YouTube does so well? Its because the short, 1-2 minute videos on the site, cater to this mentality. We want the news, we want it now, and we want it in a nutshell. The photo-driven journalism that has come to dominate our society is a testament to that. So, for a grade to western media on their coverage of international affairs, I would give them a D.

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