Gavin Ellis is a media consultant, commentator and researcher. He holds a doctorate in political studies. A former editor-in-chief of the New Zealand Herald, he is the author of Trust Ownership and the Future of News: Media Moguls and White Knights (London, Palgrave) and Complacent Nation (Wellington, BWB Texts). His consultancy clients include media organisations and government ministries. His Tuesday Commentary on media matters appears weekly on his site www.whiteknightnews.com
Journalists are no strangers to death. They write about it with professional detachment…unless they are writing about one of their own.
I was sitting at my desk when I read an online story – reported with that professional detachment –about a body found in the surf.
The Northern Advocate reported on its website: “Tragedy has unfolded at a popular Whangārei Heads surf beach with the discovery of a man’s body in the water earlier this afternoon. Northland Police Senior Sergeant Shane Turner said a man of European descent and around 65-years-old was found dead in the surf at the southern end of Ocean Beach, around 35km from central Whangārei, shortly before 1.13pm.”
I read it with the same detachment I would have employed if I had written the story. It’s an approach that is central to unbiased reporting. It’s also a defence mechanism for journalists to avoid the cumulative effects of witnessing grief.