TO BE HUMAN

I only teared up once while watching news coverage of the Haiti crisis.

On CNN, newscaster Campbell Brown asked a Haitian correspondent about an 11-year-old girl who was pulled from the rubble a few days ago. She asked how the girl was doing. The correspondent hesitated. Then he said the girl didn’t make it — she passed away. When the camera went back to Brown, she was crying. She tried to speak, but she was choked up so they went to commercial break.

Over the past few days, I’ve seen horrific images of dying people, mourning families and bodies piled up in the streets. They made me sad, but it didn’t hit that sensitive nerve in my heart.

Watching the CNN correspondent tell that story, and watching Campbell Brown cry — that did it. It broke my heart.

I knew why that happened — because I related to these Americans but not to the Haitians — and that felt wrong.

But so much of the world we know exists in a television box. And images on a screen don’t have the same affect on us anymore. Television and newspapers — and, now, even blogs — have a curtain that keeps these images on the other side of the glass.

It’s part of a presentation. It offers order and comfort.

So when the normal rhythm of coverage was broken by a sobbing broadcaster, something clicked in me: This was real. The grand curtains were torn dow. I saw a man witnessing tragedy in Haiti, and a woman in a studio mourning it. All the other times, I felt like I was watching a show.

Something happens when reporters cover horrific tragedies — we harden ourselves to the pain. When we do feel pain, we hide it. It’s necessary sometimes, much like it is for some law enforcement officials and medical workers. You can’t personalize everything, or else you can’t do your job.

But sometimes journalists are charged with covering a story, and we don’t let it affect us. I’ve certainly done this before, and I see reporters do this every day.

Instead of acting like a sponge diving into an ocean of emotionally painful information, we go in as rocks. We come back to the newsroom after covering horrific car accidents or brutal murders, and we can sit there and joke around, unaffected — or, at least, seemingly unaffected. Like I said, some of this is needed.

But you know I learned today? It’s important for journalists to be human.

Good journalists relate to their audience. So when people see a journalist reacting a certain way, as a human being, it hits home.

So when reporters are in places, like Haiti, their job is to help us construct an image of that situation in our heads. Television sets and words may be the medium we use to tell the story. But it seems the most important tool is our humanity.

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