Monday, August 18, 2008

Emotional Journalism

A colleague of mine, who happens to be Azeri, was very upset that he didn't receive a grant from an organization. He came to me and said he was going to write a story about how the winner of the grant didn't deserve it and how the organization providing the grant was not jurying the process fairly. It was going to be a very emotional piece. He called it a story, but it was going to be an opinion piece masquerading as an investigative story. He was going to write it that afternoon. I convinced him to leave it alone -- afterall -- he would probably be applying for another grant from this organization sometime in the future.

It wasn't my first encounter with emotional journalism. In fact, I too, have been on the receiving end of emotional journalism -- when a group of journalists didn't receive a small grant from me that they thought they deserved.

Emotional journalism is practiced widely and I've noticed it a lot during my time in the former Soviet republics. Journalists, and sometimes those who think they are journalists, sometimes use this technique for intimidation.

One part-time journalist told me recently that when he didn't get the kind of answers that he wanted from people, he'd just start shouting at them. "They give me answers then because they know that I will write something bad about them, otherwise." It doesn't always work, the last time he tried his shouting technique, they told him to write a letter to the company and they'd get back to him in about two weeks. He went back the next day, apologized and got the interview.

Emotional journalism can be dangerous, too. It can send journalists to prison in societies where libel and defamation are part of the criminal code. In Tajikistan, last year, three young women, who'd just turned 20, faced two years in prison for making up a story about a Tajik singer and publishing it on the internet. The Tajik government had just passed a law that made it a criminal offense to libel someone on the internet.

Emotional journalism is obviously not good for journalists, particularly those trying to practice international standards.

It is a way for governments to say "see, this is how all journalists are."

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