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Tears show that a reporter truly understands

It's hard to totally remove emotions from the job

Scott Reeder
Scott Reeder

SANTA FE, Texas – Last week, a mother looked me in the eye and explained how a gunman entered her son's high school classroom and shot him dead along with nine others in a school shooting.

I came to this Texas coastal community to gather information about the May 19 school shooting and produce a podcast examining the causes and effects of such violence and to determine how to better protect our children.

But as that mother shared her loss to me, I was overwhelmed, unable to fully remember what I wanted to say to her. Tears welled in my eyes, my voice cracked, and I try as I might, I couldn’t form a sentence.

My younger self would have been ashamed.

In college, my journalism professors intoned that a journalist must be emotionally removed from a story. They saw us as dispassionate observers, transcribing our observations, but never betraying our feelings to any passersby.

In the testosterone-filled newsrooms, where I spent my youth, a crying reporter would have been the subject of much derision. After all, you never saw Clark Kent weep into his typewriter or sob on Lois Lane’s shoulder.

Newsrooms can be strange places.

In those days, other emotions such as anger were quite acceptable. It wasn’t uncommon to see a reporter or editor hollering at each other. But, crying? No, that was crossing a line.

For me, my emotional kryptonite is children.

My three daughters have given me a level of empathy I just can’t hide. When I hear of a child who has been subjected to violence, I think of my love for my own girls, and waves of grief follow.

In retrospect, the stoic journalist was never a good thing. It was something the profession was never asked to impose on itself by those outside of it.

For example, I once asked my mother what she remembered about President Kennedy’s assassination.

She told me this story, “I was watching ‘As the World Turns’ when a bulletin came across that the president had been shot. Walter Cronkite appeared on the screen crying. He said President Kennedy was dead.”

She didn’t speak of Cronkite’s tears as a bad thing. For her, his emotion underscored the gravity of the event.

Last week, when I became teary eyed, the mother’s face softened toward me. She knew I understood.

And at the end of the day, understanding is what journalism should be all about.

Note to readers: Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area and produces the podcast Suspect Convictions.

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