In the news business we get very jaded. We get used to hearing about the awful things people do to each other, day after day, and we have even been known to make the occasional dark and twisted joke about some horrific situations as a coping mechanism. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.
So it’s easy to lose touch with the way most people react to terrible news unless you keep it foremost in your mind. What does that mean to a news anchor? My former News Director at 680 News said it best: Mass with class. A newscast isn’t made up of newsroom chatter. We might knock around gruesome details that will never make it to air if it’s stomach-turning and doesn’t serve the story. It’s probably good enough to say someone was stabbed to death without describing the exact details of each knife plunge. An inquest or trial can be a different animal but that kind of ongoing, detailed testimony is most often best served in a newspaper anyway.
I don’t want to embarrass anyone because this is something you learn as you go and in some cases, there’s no one to teach you. But Mass with Class means telling the truth but not being vulgar or unnecessarily upsetting. One of our rules at 680 was “never tease a dead child”. What that means is, if you have a story about a dead child coming up, never use that specific information to “tease” the audience into staying tuned. It just sounds heartless and opportunistic. I heard that very thing this week with fresh ears and – yup – that’s how it sounds. It takes creativity to come up with a teaser that doesn’t give away the whole story but it also takes sensitivity and care to make sure you’re not sounding flippant about the end of someone’s life. After all, to those involved it’s not just a “story”, it’s their life being altered forever. We don’t have to lose our authoritative voices but we should use a classy touch when talking about such things to the masses.