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This former HBO executive is trying to use dramatic techniques to highlight the injustice in criminal justice
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April 26, 2018, 12:06 p.m.

There’s a lot of differences between medicine and journalism — you don’t need a license to practice, journalism, for one — but one underlying similarity is the importance of empathy.

“Journalism isn’t typically a matter of life and death, but it’s as much a listening profession as medicine. In telling stories, we care for our communities, just as doctors help ensure the health of our bodies. Can journalists use similar techniques to provide more representative coverage of communities that are unlike them?”

That’s the mindset P. Kim Bui uses to open her report on empathy strategies in newsrooms for the American Press Institute, published Thursday.

Empathy has been a recurring need for journalists, from connecting with your sources in person to developing virtual reality material that encourages users to take action. As trust in media teeters, building positive relationships with people who interact with the media doesn’t hurt, either.

“You’re not the first one [from the media] to come,” said Keith Woods, vice president for newsroom training and diversity at NPR. “And the last one that came, came with nothing. And the one before that.”

He described the art of empathy for the report as “understanding the perspectives of the people in that community and letting them tell their own stories.”

Here’s how Bui identifies the three types of empathy:

Cognitive: This is the ability to see the world through another person’s perspective.

A reporter can employ cognitive empathy to approach an underserved community, using techniques that help him understand people with opposing views and from different backgrounds.

Behavioral: This is the verbal and nonverbal communication that indicates someone understands another person or her perspective.

Reporters can also practice behavioral empathy by using verbal and nonverbal signals to show they’re working to understand another person’s feelings and ideas. These signals can be simple, like putting your pen down to let someone cry or looking into his eyes as he speaks.

Affective: This involves physically and emotionally experiencing another person’s emotions.

The third kind of empathy, affective empathy, makes many journalists uncomfortable. They believe sharing a source’s emotions is a sign they’ve gotten too close and jeopardized their impartiality.

Bui also compiled an exhaustive list of recommendations for reporters, photojournalists, videographers, editors, managers, and news directors for incorporating more empathy into their work, with specific examples and case studies from editors and journalists throughout the report.
The full report is here.

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