What place does emotion have in a news story?

Mary Ann Hogan
Chips Quinn Writing Coach

Dear Coach,

Can you weigh in on a newsroom debate? How much emotion should we be putting in news stories?¬†— Poker-faced

Dear Poker-faced,

First, what do you mean by “emotion” and “putting” it somewhere? If you’re talking about gratuitous description — for example, adding “he sobbed uncontrollably” or “he screeched, like a lamb going to slaughter” — get rid of it.

But some stories (more than we like to admit) contain an emotional dimension. The reporter’s challenge is to reflect that unobtrusively and not bow to the impulse to dance all over it.

Here’s my favorite emotion-in-the-news story.

New York Times¬†reporter Meyer Berger wrote his account of the return of World War II dead so simply, so beautifully — “The first war dead from Europe came home yesterday” — that publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger said he didn’t want the story on the front page.

“Why not?” the editor wanted to know.

Sulzberger’s response: “It makes me cry.”

It ran.

They cried.


Mary Ann Hogan’s Ask The Coach columns, first written for the Chips Quinn Scholars program, are republished with permission from the Freedom Forum Institute, 2019.

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