July 31, 2009

Eyes and Ears

Former WUSA anchor Mike Walter made a documentary film called Breaking News, Breaking Down about “journalists who believe they are the eyes and ears of society, never imagining what that might do to their minds.” The film examines the emotional trauma that can occur after witnessing (i.e. being a part of) catastrophic events. Here’s a clip:

I have not seen the film, just the clip. But I still have a couple of observations.

1. The clip clearly indicates that Tricia Olszewski is correct:

Breaking News, Breaking Down is inherently gripping, which is why its biggest failing is Walter’s tendency to overembellish—the story doesn’t need dramatic music, frozen and colorized shots, or trite comments like “I found Dart Center, and in the process I found myself.” Of all people, a newsman should understand that facts are more powerful than flourishes.

This film appears to be a shining example of glory bias. That’s not to say the topic is not interesting or important. While it might seem like a bit of professional common sense that “a newsman should understand that facts are more powerful than flourishes,” the fact is that the medium and the structural biases dictate content. The underlying idea that Walter is in control of his medium is not entirely correct. It’s more complicated than that. I think this film could offer a teachable, head-slap moment for broadcast journalists.

2. What kind of a human being would you have to be to be emotionally dead to catastrophe? I’m thinking “jaded journalist” is a euphemisim for something much worse, something you ought to seek treatment for, something journalists should never aspire to be. So, really, there is nothing at all surprising here in two senses: 1) Humans will react emotionally to catastrophic events they witness (are a part of), and 2) Television journalists will find a way to make themselves a part of the story precisely because of the imperatives of the medium.

Comments are closed.