As journalists, we are expected to stay informed. We ignore the news at our peril.
But if we give it our full attention it bums us out.
I know when I first realized that being bummed out all the time was an occupational hazard of journalism. I was working at a newspaper in south Florida in the ’80s, and there was a lot of scary stuff happening. The CDC was in nearby Belle Glade, investigating the possibility that the virus that causes AIDS was being transmitted by mosquitoes (yes, this was very early days).
Meanwhile in Miami, the drug cartels were shooting down innocent bystanders in gunfights at shopping malls. And a crazy man beheaded his girlfriend then threw her head at the police who were pursuing him. Twice.
The first thing I did when I decided to quit that job and change directions was to stop reading the news for a few weeks. It was too much.
Indirectly, that’s the subject of this blog post that Annie Rees shared with me this morning.
One thing that very good bit of writing doesn’t address, though, is how to deal with knowing a lot about what’s going on. As a reporter for the Missourian or Vox, you’re expected to read local news thoroughly. Most of it won’t disturb your dreams, though occasionally you will have to report on or be informed about something very sad or disturbing.
What that piece addresses is world news and the horror of it, especially lately. The slaying of two journalists recently feels like a very direct hit to some of us in journalism. But it’s the kind of story that might well upset anyone who really stops to think about it.
What to do about this? Here’s my approach: I ask myself if I really need to know about something. Am I reading reflexively or reflectively? If, after I read a headline, I decide the story isn’t directly related to the things I must know about, I stop myself. Because sometimes we are attracted by morbid fascination.
Be careful about that. I believe it can result in numbing, and that’s not good for a reporter or, let’s face it, a human being.