My alma mater, Northeastern University, is featuring me in an upcoming section celebrating
the 100th anniversary of their cooperative education curriculum (a five-year plan in which students alternate between classroom study and relevant work experience).
I majored in journalism and was incredibly fortunate to land three stellar co-op jobs:
– as a copy boy/news clerk with The New York Times
– as a reporter/sportscaster/talk show host for WGCH Radio in Greenwich
– and, finally, as a news writer for WEEI News radio in Boston.
As I was being interviewed, I was asked why I'd chosen public relations over journalism. “That's easy,” I responded, “I hated asking the 'So, how did you feel' questions to victims of fires, parents of kidnapped children and other people who suddenly found their worlds turned upside down.
I remember my WEEI news editor once yelling at me to track down the survivors of a horrific fire in Dorchester that had occurred the night before. “Get one of them on the phone and, so help me, do not hang up until you ask them how it made them feel!” He felt I wasn't getting enough emotion in my interviews.
I couldn't deal with the intrusiveness of it all. Nor could I deal with the jaded, world weary personalities of the journalists with whom I worked. I didn't want to wake up one day and be as burnt out as so many of these professional journalists appeared to be.
I bring all this up because I see the “…So, how did it make you feel?” question being asked more often than ever nowadays. In fact, it's become a staple of the morning talk shows. Maggie Rodriguez of ‘The CBS Early Show’ just asked the mom of some poor kid who had been badly burned how she felt. As soon as the interview ended, Maggie smiled at the camera and previewed an upcoming segment on women's health.
I couldn't do that. I couldn't keep up a false front or 'compartmentalize' the horror and personal tragedy.
I think it says something about the image and reputation of journalism that, as the media skew more and more towards the tawdry and sensational, we're seeing more and more digging into the human tragedy that goes along with modern-day life. Sleaze equals ratings, pure and simple.
Journalists may pillory public relations, but most of us focus on telling the positive side of a story. And, for that, I'm grateful (and proud.)