It’s elementary. All you need are facts. No you don’t. You need to understand emotions in journalism.

This is one of my personal photos, but as I got up this morning I thought I could use it to underscore something on my mind, why areas of current taught Journalism have a problem with audiences. Politics on the other hand sees the problem in its storytelling.

This is a photo taken several years ago in Ireland after my PhD graduation. There’s an alternative photo I could show you of me alone holding my scroll.

Both serve a function. But in not knowing me, there’s a higher chance you may be drawn to this photo. It features my two lads taking photos of me looking at my partner. Out of shot (not info readily available) several passer bys are taking photos of the whole scene.

I lecture in international news reporting. Examine any journalism book and key to journalism is facts. Indeed facts and evidence matter. It’s the anchor to reality-based storytelling as opposed to supposition and making things up.

But, comparatively few books write about how the audience faced with the emotions of a story by pass the utilities of facts. Yes, yes, we need facts. My point is journalism rarely teaches how emotions drive a story.

Often, watching journalists duelling with politicians feels like the journalist has a tooth pick against the politicians scythe.

Journalism leaves the overt inclusion of emotions in storytelling to either PR, cinema of political parties’ storytelling. Across politics, particularly in the US/ UK etc (Read Drew Westen’s The Political Brain) the US’ GOP in election campaigns tends to appeal to the electorate’s emotions, whilst Democrats appeal to rational thought.

Rational thought was the bedrock for the age of reasoning and how science overcame religious doctrine. By the 20th century journalism’s framing of facts was the continued assault over irrational behaviour and people being wedded to emotional decision making.

Yet very often when you place emotion against the utilities of fact, emotion wins. Does that mean journalism should stop teaching facts? No. It means journalism training should acknowledge how emotions can drive the best intentioned factual stories into the dust.

Politicians can lie so often because they realise no journalism, based solely around dense fact-based reportage will impact them. In democracies we rely on journalism as a source to combat falsehoods, but in engineering terms, journalism at large hasn’t been fine tuned for the 21st Century.

Edward Bernays, the father of Public Relations — a name he invented after ditching the word propaganda saw people as irrational. With the best of intentions, with a deep moral compasses, politicians and advertisers could always get to them because they knew how to hijack the Amygdala. Bernays understood that to be interested in something meant investing in it emotionally and therefore decision making engendered an irrational rationality.

A new discourse requires journalism storytelling see this strategic play and develop new language and techniques to hold people/institutions to account. Journalism appears easy to do, because the emphasis is placed on, can you write, not in the 21st century can you puncture this falsehood, spread of lies for the audience? Or journalism pretends performance is secondary to information distribution.

A new taught journalism would involve understanding for example, amygdala hijacking, cognitive overload, virtue signalling and simple effective ways to communicate via language e.g. use of metaphors and symbolism.

Today, a report is released by a select committee drawing inference that white working class poor people is in effect a consequence of paying too much attention to multiculturalism. It makes for a compelling emotional narrative to a constituency ignoring the cutbacks and dissociation of working class people by the Tories. But any critique won’t work if it follows the old trope of mere factual evidence. It needs a counterpoint that seeks to appeal to such irrationalism.

I’ve seen this at work, which led to my PhD, and through post doc work refer to it as Cinema Journalism in which journalists embrace psychology-in-action and combine facts in narrative with emotional storytelling.

Just like the picture above it tells a more emotional story than one with me just in shot.

#journalism #phd #storytelling #science #media