Is it Ethical to Push for the Emotional Response?

25 Apr

Jeanette Woods is a producer for WHYY, a public radio station based in Philadelphia, Pa. In her career, she reported for both radio and television. She said that the one ethical rule that journalists cannot break is “not putting words or concepts into the interviewee’s mouth.”

“Often in editing or paraphrasing, you can end up having the person you interviewed come off as not necessarily saying something that’s not true, but you change the intent…that’s actually my nightmare. I’m terrified of misrepresenting something,” said Woods.

When she worked in television journalism, Woods said she had supervisors pressure her into creating emotions by asking questions that would try to make the person cry or have a reaction to.

“I don’t know that this is unethical, but it made me uncomfortable to kind of prey on people’s emotional state. Especially when they weren’t necessarily knowing that that was where the interview was going to go. That’s why I don’t work for television anymore,” said Woods.

Woods gave a specific instance when she was interviewing a woman who had a child with some health issues and the host wanted the woman to get emotional.

“I felt like this is difficult for her and I’m not going to push her. She made it clear that it was important for her not to appear like she was falling apart and keep her composure,” said Woods

Since Woods didn’t push the woman to become emotional, she said her supervisor reprimanded her a little bit.

“Like ‘This is what I wanted. Why didn’t you do that?’ But it just helped me know that this is not for me,” Woods stated.

While this type of situation is not specifically mentioned in the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics, the code does say to “show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage.” If a person is not a politician or someone who needs to be held responsible for their actions then taking advantage of a person’s emotional state for the sake of a spicier story is not OK in my opinion as well.

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