Please welcome today’s guest writer, Avery Johnson. Avery is a web producer at KION News in Salinas, California. She graduated in 2015 with a degree in English literature and a minor in history. When she’s not in the newsroom, she’s wrangling first graders as a substitute teacher or planning her next bouldering problem.
The popular phrase that makes journalists cringe is “if it bleeds, it leads,” but often that’s what gets us the most views, and without viewers, none of us have jobs. Sadly for us, that means that every day we deal with the worst day of someone’s life, and we’re left looking for ways to cope.
One of the ways I’ve seen it handled in newsrooms is disassociation. You stick to the facts and cut off emotional connections, but that’s not something that comes easily to many people—including me. I’m the type of person who can’t shrug off a brutal murder, a young person who went down the wrong path and is facing hard consequences, or a police shooting. To me, it’s not just another day at work.
Sensitivity to suffering is one of my favorite things about myself, and I think it’s part of God’s calling for all of us. It allows us to connect with people and have compassion and empathy. I don’t want to lose that about myself, and I truly think it makes me a better journalist because people feel they can open up to me.
In separating ourselves from our emotions, are we losing what makes us most effective?
But it’s a fine line—it’s so easy to get lost in the darkness. Several of my coworkers struggle with anxiety in part because of our jobs. I won’t deny that it’s something I face too. We hear all of the ways things can go wrong, and it can be paralyzing.
It can be easy to end the story there—accept the struggle as part of working in journalism. I think there’s more to it. I think that’s what drives us to where we are.
People are not drawn to journalism because it makes them feel good all of the time. It’s about keeping people informed, telling stories, and hunting down the truth. Of course it’s not always executed perfectly, but that’s what all of the fresh-faced journalism school graduates want to do. It can be easy to forget after you see the body of a murder victim rolled away on a gurney, but I think it’s important to keep some of that idealism.
If we remember the goal we hope to accomplish, I know I at least am able to see the suffering as part of a bigger picture. We are here to tell the story of the broken things, the pain, corruption, and unfortunate accidents, so that maybe something can be done about it. Maybe people will realize that there is a problem and work to do something about it. To use an SAO buzzword, it may even be apocalyptic.
David Dark writes in his book Everyday Apocalypse, “Apocalyptic shows us what we’re not seeing. It can’t be composed or spoken by the powers that be, because they are the sustainers of ‘the way things are’… .” With that in mind, suffering is no longer meaningless. It’s what lights a fire under us to show the fallenness so we know where to advocate, listen, or give a voice to those who are silenced.
Sometimes I do just want to shut down or give up, but that’s not what we’re called to do. The suffering we see isn’t without purpose, even if it feels that way sometimes. Maybe the pain we feel is a call to action that we should lean into.