As a journalist, you pride yourself on being objective, reporting the facts. But often emotion plays a role in the stories you cover and how you cover them, even if you think it shouldn't.
Earlier this week, television and radio newsrooms across the country debated whether they would, or should, broadcast the audio recordings of the 911 calls from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 20 first-graders and six school employees dead one year ago. The debate was over whether airing the tapes added anything to the viewers' understanding of what happened in Newtown, Connecticut.
After listening to the tapes, we decided that they added nothing substantive to the story and only illustrated something we already knew – the people inside the school were frightened and desperate. It was painful to listen to the tapes without thinking of how the callers – the victims – were feeling as they hid in the school, praying that the gunman would bypass them. You also couldn't help thinking about how the survivors and all the victims' families would feel to have to relive those horrible moments.
We decided that we wouldn't play the 911 calls, that if someone truly wanted to hear them they could find them for themselves on the Internet. While we'd like to say we made the decision purely on the facts, emotion was a factor.
Emotion also played a role in our decision to do a story this week on the children's choir of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Tujunga.
The kids in the choir are all younger than 12 and they're trying to raise money for a once-in-lifetime opportunity – singing at Carnegie Hall, 2800 miles away. It's a remarkable honor for this small choir of just 25 kids. They had never performed outside their community until this past spring when they sang at a choir festival in Anaheim. They impressed the festival organizers so much that the choir was invited to another festival at the famed New York venue next summer. The question now is: can they afford to go? It's going to cost many thousands of dollars to fly them there, put them up in hotels, and feed them while they are away from their families. They've already had several bake sales to try to raise enough money. They're holding a fundraising concert this Sunday at the church.
Tujunga is not a rich community. The children don't come from well-off families, but they have something money can't buy. They have a lot of heart and plenty of talent. Plenty of talent. We were blown away by the sound of their young voices, strong and full of joy. It touched us. We wanted to help. We had to tell their story.
Facts are important. We cannot afford to get them wrong. But, it's just as important to consider the impact a story can have on the people involved, good and bad.