Empathy is the first stage of design thinking. Image: Mike Boyson
In the fourth of a series of post on seven habits often associated with good journalism I look at a quality which is much less talked about, and often misunderstood — and why I believe it should be just as central as qualities such as persistence or curiosity.
Empathy — specifically cognitive empathy — is the ability to imagine what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes.
It is one of the more underrated qualities of good journalists, perhaps because people often confuse it with sympathy, or with emotional empathy.
The difference is important: it is possible to imagine what it is like to be a particular person (cognitive empathy), including criminals and corrupt officials, without feeling sorry for them (sympathy) or feeling the same way (emotional empathy). Continue reading →
One of the earliest skills that broadcast journalists learn is how to conduct a vox pop. The vox pop is an attempt to ‘take the pulse’ of the public on a topical issue: the journalist will stand in a busy public place and ask passers-by to share their thoughts on the issue of the day.
The results will typically be used as part of a news package (not, it should be pointed out, as a standalone story), particularly when the news story in question doesn’t have many other interviews or visuals to draw on. Most are quickly forgotten. Continue reading →
On its own the first habit of a successful journalist — curiosity — can only take us so far as a journalist: as we ask questions of our sources, we cannot merely report what people tell us — especially if two different sources say contrasting things.
Scepticism is important in journalism because it moves us from merely repeating what people have said, to establishing the factual basis that puts that information into context — whether those facts support or contradict those statements, or do not exist at all.
This has become particularly important in a modern information age when most public bodies can communicate with the public directly, without that accountability.
Scepticism as the voice of the audience
If curiosity represents the journalist acting as the eyes and ears of the audience, scepticism is where we act as the mouth of the audience.
More specifically, it is the way in which we give a voice to an audience which isn’t able to ask questions itself. Continue reading →