A Reminder of the Impact of Empathetic Journalism

Since most of the Must See Mondays I’ve seen (either in person or on Youtube) have been interview formats, I was surprised that this installment began with presentations of the small media and large media Katherine Schneider Journalism Awards for Excellence in Reporting on Disability. Based on the billing, The Best in Disability Reporting, I assumed it would be a forum with a panel of the winners. Instead, the small market winner, Ayat Khiry, spoke about her experience reporting for the ARIJ Arab Investigative Network for her winning piece, “Falling on Deaf Ears”, before Kathy Ritchie and William Wan discussed his winning piece for the Washington Post, entitled “Dementia patients are dying from isolation amid coronavirus pandemic”.

I was inspired by William’s sincerity and his approach to journalism. He said, “The reason I do journalism is that I want to become a better person. I don’t just want to make the world a better place, I want to change and be a better person.” He spoke about Dan Goerke, the man who is featured in the award winning story, with admiration. “Watching his example of how he navigated being a husband to someone who was losing the idea of who he even was – yeah, that’s part of it.” 

I asked William if the empathy and care he demonstrated talking about his reporting was the result of that approach or if he had always been caring by nature. He credited his experiences growing up as the son of a pastor for his empathy, though he was candid that his approach early in his career was misguided and self-serving. He says he has learned to overcome that with a strategic approach to writing stories that will have impact and his self-examination of his motives, striving to make a difference rather than for accolades and career achievement.  

The event was well attended, approximately 60 people were in the crowd. Frankly if it wasn’t for the 1% extra credit incentive for my classes, I would probably not have been one of them, which is another lesson, because this is exactly what I needed tonight. The stress of my grad program and the pressure to make good on this leap of faith leaving my corporate gig for an uncertain new career have been wearing on me. But if I can learn to approach journalism the way Willliam Wan does, and do the work that I set out to do when I applied for the program, then I won’t measure my success based on rejected pitches and internship applications, but on the impact of my reporting and the person it will help me become. 

Links to key participants and details below:

The Best in Disability Reporting – Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Katherine Schneider, Founder, Katherine Schneider Journalism Awards for Excellence in Reporting on Disability

Kristin Gilger – Presenter and Interim Dean, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Kathy Ritchie – Moderator and Health & Caregiving Editor for Next Avenue.

William Wan Enterprise & Narrative Reporter for the Washington Post.

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