A Come To Jesus Journalism Day (Sorta)

Never have I had a class spark anxiety as quickly as my class on trauma reporting. It seems like it would be obvious, and I was expecting it, but I don’t think I truly prepared myself for the weight of other people’s heartaches.

I written posts before about how other people’s problems stress me out way more than I feel is necessary or normal. My overactive empathy has kicked into overdrive in J4301 way, way faster than I thought it would.

Yesterday in class, we watched part of the National Geographic documentary Witness: Joplin Tornado. Joplin is a mere four hours away from Columbia, and many MU students are from there, so it’s a tragedy near and dear to our hearts. Watching videos shot by citizens, hearing the screams of confused and frightened children, witnessing the total destructive power of the supercell — it was almost too much.

I did what I always did when I get super nervous and I can’t leave or check out: I fiddle. I play with my necklaces, spin my rings, snap the hair tie on my wrist. Sometimes I think most of the reason why I wear so much jewelry is so that I have something to distract me when I get anxious.

The experience got me thinking: what would I do if I was actually in an event like the Joplin tornado? Or some other traumatic event? I have a sneaking suspicion that I would either be the one to freeze or burst into inconsolable tears. Meaning, of course, I would be essentially useless. And if you know anything about me, you know that I hate feeling like I can’t help or serve someone.

Beyond my own nerves, how could I possibly write a story about a Joplin survivor? How could I possibly find the strength to dig into someone’s worst nightmare and make them open up their wounds so that I can tell everyone about it?

Usually, I am confident in my abilities to write and report. I am sure Katherine has some professorial tricks up her sleeves, but I’m nervous, to say the least.

Side note: as of Jan. 28, there had been 11 school shootings in 19 days. I am so not looking forward to diving into that politically-laced pit of children’s suffering.

Side note, part two: If you’re a fan of Malcolm Gladwell, I would highly recommend “The Unconditional” by Amanda Ripley. It’s what I’m currently reading and it’s utterly fascinating.

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7 thoughts on “A Come To Jesus Journalism Day (Sorta)

  1. Your “what would I do….?” question made me think…. Until things happen to us, we don’t know how we are going to react or respond to them. When my mother was very seriously ill in 2012/2013 and I was her primary caregiver, I found strength that I never knew I had. I’d known for a while that her illness was going to worsen and I had no idea how I was going to cope with the stress. Obviously, I’m not trying to compare my situation at that time with the horror and tragedy of natural disasters but my point is that sometimes we surprise ourselves with our reactions to events which are pretty much out of our control.

    1. I think you’re right, that people have much more strength in them than we think. It’s nice to know; I just don’t know how to tap into it before I make myself sick with anxiety. Thank you so much for sharing your story with me.

  2. I think you’ll find there are people who want to tell their story. Let their strength be yours. When I was in college, I worked on a story for a class surrounding a quadriplegic man. At 19, his friend was showing off this antique gun his father had handed down to him. He then did something stupid. Thinking it wasn’t loaded, he pulled the trigger and shot the man. Now in his 30s, he’s able to be independent. I’m not going to lie, it was a uncomfortable experience at first. I don’t think you ever completely shake that discomfort away because you are digging into their past. If you do it right, though, they will want to tell your their story.

    1. That’s what makes journalism so powerful to me: The chance to tell people’s stories, the kind of stories that need to be told. I’m terrified of re-victimizing someone, though. It’s definitely a delicate process.

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