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Scott Bryant - Journalists shouldn't become part of the story

   Like most everyone, I've been following the coverage of the earthquake and its aftermath in Haiti. My heart goes out.
      And as a member of the news media, I pay attention to the way things are covered. I am fascinated by the ways different mediums communicate -- text, video, photographs, graphics, etc -- their strengths and weakness in communicating, and how they are combined to give us a more complete understanding of events and issues. I watch how other people approach news coverage, not only to better understand the issues, but to think of ways I can make myself a better journalist.
      I have to admit, though, I really don't understand some approaches that have become common, especially in television news.
      Thursday, I watched a report by Anderson Cooper on CNN. Professional journalists were finally making their way into Haiti and helping us gain perspective on the scope of the tragedy, as well as helping us connect to real people and the earthquake's effect on their lives. Cooper found people trying to dig a survivor out of the rubble, with nothing more than their hands. The camera panned back and forth between Cooper and the devastation as he explained what was going on.    At times, he was literally inches away from those digging, seemingly dodging their movements on occasion. All the while, you could hear the cries of the young girl buried in the twisted building. They saved the girl, and the story she told was gripping. 
      View the report for yourself here:
      But I have to say, Cooper's report made me extremely uncomfortable. 
      Now, let me be perfectly clear. I did not have a problem with Cooper reporting while others were digging to save a life. People often think journalists have no hearts because they are reporting instead of helping in tragic situations. But I strongly believe that journalists are helping by reporting. That being said, we are human beings first. If there is no one else available, if it is a life-and-death situation and there is no alternative, then you put down the camera, or the microphone, or the notebook and help. By all means. 
      But the very act of witnessing such tragedies, then sharing that experience with thousands or millions of people, has extraordinary value to society. When you can move people emotionally, you can literally move them into action. Reporting on tragedy is, or should be, an act of compassion, first and foremost, to generate compassion for the subjects of such reports.
      But Cooper's report left me squirming. Why? Because of the way he inserted himself into the story. He found a moving situation. I appreciated the explanation and the context. But I couldn't get past his flitting around with a microphone giving us the play-by-play.
      This story could have been approached and presented in a number of ways. I would rather have heard Cooper's voice narrating and explaining the whole time. I didn't need to see his face and his microphone. It was distracting, to say the least. Perhaps the story was shot this way to expedite delivery. By shooting the story this way, it may have been easier to edit and transmit from the scene. Editing video is a time consuming process. The more separate elements there are to combine (the visual part, the natural sound, the narration), the longer it takes to edit. And that's always an important consideration in breaking news.
      But this story should have been about the people involved in the effort. They should have been the focus. Had they been, I think the piece would have been infinitely more powerful. Even while interviewing the girl after she was freed, the camera still panned gratuitously towards Cooper. Why?
      David LaBelle, my college photojournalism professor, used to pound this into our heads:
      "In the end, it's not about you."
      You meaning the journalist. Some journalists have a way with words, or a gift for seeing things in unique ways. They are masters of their medium, whether it's with words, or a camera, or a microphone. The competency and natural talent of the messenger can help facilitate deeper understanding. But the very best journalists are those who become transparent in the communication process. Instead of standing between you and their subjects, you feel that you are standing in the place of the journalist. You, the reader or viewer, become the eye witness.
      Shouldn't it be about the story?

Scott Bryant is the staff photographer and a multimedia producer for the Statesboro Herald. He can be reached at


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