Stop being polite and start getting real

“Perhaps the gulf between journalism and audiences isn’t about technology or paywalls — it’s that the person delivering the news doesn’t reflect what I’m feeling.”

Any child of the 1990s remembers the earworm opening line from MTV’s reality show The Real World: “This is the true story…of seven strangers…picked to live in a house…work together…and have their lives taped…to find out what happens…when people stop being polite…and start getting real.”

As I watched 2020 unfold across every media platform known to humankind, that last line kept ringing in my head, louder and louder: Stop being polite and start getting real.

A long-held pretense of journalism is that it should be objective. It should be non-partisan. It should hold people accountable. It should be professional. And I’m not here to argue those beliefs. But if there’s one thing it shouldn’t be, it’s polite.

There’s no question that we should all be self-respecting in the work we do. But with the stakes so high, when people’s lives hang in the balance, this is no time to be demure.

I’d like to see more journalists in 2021 be more real and reflect their own emotions to their audiences, especially as we tout the need for more diversity in this industry. This isn’t about becoming a news-baiting sympathizer or promoting advocacy or activism; this is about reflecting humanity.

Perhaps the gulf between journalism and audiences isn’t about technology or paywalls — it’s that the person delivering the news doesn’t reflect what I’m feeling. What I felt this year was a mixture of anger, sadness, hopelessness, and redemption. But I never saw it in the faces and voices of those reporting it. And why not feel something?

Yes, the story should be about the subjects you’re covering. But when someone testifies to you about a loved one’s death from COVID-19, do you, the reporter, not cry? And do you not show that in the story? Millions have lost their jobs and livelihoods, but we sign off almost all of those stories no different than the ones about a cat stuck in a tree.

The closest to human emotion that I typically see from a story is in pieces from CBS’ Steve Hartman. As the Friday camera draws to a close on Nora O’Donnell, the slight twinkle of a watery eye begins to emerge, and then we’re out. Fade to black.

We saw the most incredible emotion from a reporter in 2008 when Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw both of his shoes at President George W. Bush during an Iraqi press conference. In that one moment, the pent-up frustration hurled at power.

I’m not saying we should throw shoes at presidents. But we shouldn’t allow for the unwritten rules of performative press conferences and sit-down interviews to become unfettered platforms for misinformation.

I know the notion of wearing your heart on your sleeve isn’t something that this profession condones, but I’d like to see more of it. The world and journalism could use a shot in the arm from the fictional character of Howard Beale. We saw this during the pandemic, as people worldwide went to their windows to express their emotions with their voices, instruments, and (most often) pots and pans.

We don’t need more corporate brand voice or more slick graphics packages. We need humankind to push through — and we need you, journalists, to be a part of that process.

Andrew Ramsammy is director of digital content for Global Sport Matters, a media enterprise at Arizona State University.

Any child of the 1990s remembers the earworm opening line from MTV’s reality show The Real World: “This is the true story…of seven strangers…picked to live in a house…work together…and have their lives taped…to find out what happens…when people stop being polite…and start getting real.”

As I watched 2020 unfold across every media platform known to humankind, that last line kept ringing in my head, louder and louder: Stop being polite and start getting real.

A long-held pretense of journalism is that it should be objective. It should be non-partisan. It should hold people accountable. It should be professional. And I’m not here to argue those beliefs. But if there’s one thing it shouldn’t be, it’s polite.

There’s no question that we should all be self-respecting in the work we do. But with the stakes so high, when people’s lives hang in the balance, this is no time to be demure.

I’d like to see more journalists in 2021 be more real and reflect their own emotions to their audiences, especially as we tout the need for more diversity in this industry. This isn’t about becoming a news-baiting sympathizer or promoting advocacy or activism; this is about reflecting humanity.

Perhaps the gulf between journalism and audiences isn’t about technology or paywalls — it’s that the person delivering the news doesn’t reflect what I’m feeling. What I felt this year was a mixture of anger, sadness, hopelessness, and redemption. But I never saw it in the faces and voices of those reporting it. And why not feel something?

Yes, the story should be about the subjects you’re covering. But when someone testifies to you about a loved one’s death from COVID-19, do you, the reporter, not cry? And do you not show that in the story? Millions have lost their jobs and livelihoods, but we sign off almost all of those stories no different than the ones about a cat stuck in a tree.

The closest to human emotion that I typically see from a story is in pieces from CBS’ Steve Hartman. As the Friday camera draws to a close on Nora O’Donnell, the slight twinkle of a watery eye begins to emerge, and then we’re out. Fade to black.

We saw the most incredible emotion from a reporter in 2008 when Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw both of his shoes at President George W. Bush during an Iraqi press conference. In that one moment, the pent-up frustration hurled at power.

I’m not saying we should throw shoes at presidents. But we shouldn’t allow for the unwritten rules of performative press conferences and sit-down interviews to become unfettered platforms for misinformation.

I know the notion of wearing your heart on your sleeve isn’t something that this profession condones, but I’d like to see more of it. The world and journalism could use a shot in the arm from the fictional character of Howard Beale. We saw this during the pandemic, as people worldwide went to their windows to express their emotions with their voices, instruments, and (most often) pots and pans.

We don’t need more corporate brand voice or more slick graphics packages. We need humankind to push through — and we need you, journalists, to be a part of that process.

Andrew Ramsammy is director of digital content for Global Sport Matters, a media enterprise at Arizona State University.

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