Friday, July 8, 2011

Unplugged; unhinged; unreachable

I am officially not working. This is the out of office message that I left on my email: "I am on vacation, which means no writing, Internet (laptop), lecturing, cellphone, blogging, or else there will be wife-related ramifications. I'll return July 18, ready to re-engage. Probably. Thank you." I am sincere about the wife-related ramifications, which are too awful to fully contemplate.

When I return, the hard work starts--lesson plans for my new digital media course at Park University, and trying to get an agent/publisher for my book Professor Komagum: Finding peace and losing my sanity in Uganda.

Former student fights emotions amidst Joplin destruction

From the Parkville Luminary

There’s a macho code among reporters that you’re supposed to be tough and aloof. Tough means showing no outward signs of emotion, and aloof means not getting involved in the story in any way. To do less means you’re not objective, which is supposedly the worst thing you can label a journalist.

Even though I’ve covered tornadoes, floods, murders, and vehicle accidents in Missouri and famines, dysfunctional orphanages, and refugees abroad, I’m still trying to figure out my proper role as a journalist, and as a compassionate human being, in time of hardship, disaster or war. I’m probably not the best role model in this respect, since I usually find myself getting entangled helping those about whom I’m reporting (like orphans or hungry school children, for example).

To get a better perspective on this issue, my Park University students will be fortunate next year to hear from Park alumnus Nima Shaffe.

Shaffe, who graduated from Park University two years ago with a broadcasting degree, is a reporter for KCTV-5 in Kansas City. He has had the opportunity, some might say misfortune, to experience tragedy first-hand during the last few months. First, he was in Alabama, covering the devastating tornadoes there. Then, more recently, he spent a week in Joplin chronicling the death and destruction there for KCTV’s viewers. (Photo--Nima Shaffe, "borrowed" from his Facebook page).

For Shaffe, one Joplin story stood out above the rest. He said, “We had just walked in when a minivan pulled up and the family got out of their vehicle and pulled a dog from the back of van. The dog had been impaled. It was draped with a number of blankets drenched in blood and before the family could even pick the dog up out of the back of the van I glanced as the faces of the staff of the clinic and not a dry eye was to be found. Even the doctor was crying. It was a tough moment and even harder after I found that the dog had died. I walked out of the clinic and just asked if I could give the owner a hug. This was her child--her one and only baby.”

Shaffe wasn’t the only reporter dealing with his emotions. Covering Joplin, it was difficult not to break down and cry, like the Weather Channel’s Mike Bettes did on national television. Shaffe said, “Last night watching the reporter for the Weather Channel was heart-wrenching. How do I explain utter devastation? How do I explain these people are in their hardest hour?”

The young KCTV reporter is unapologetic for letting his human side show through. “We (journalists) are people to and we have emotions, thought processes and feelings like everyone else,” said Shaffe. “Showing emotion, relating to the viewer, and sharing your personality engages the (audience) and allows for a journalist to soar. How do you not get emotional when you hear someone say they pulled on the arm of their best friend who was buried underneath some rubble? Hard not to.” In covering the tornado, Shaffe said he learned that it’s acceptable “to relate...respond...and share emotion. It's not something I do all the time but this time it was especially hard to keep my emotions back.”

Witnessing a tragedy of this magnitude would leave most of us shaken, some of us to the point that it might even make us question our faith. Not Nima, who is one of the most upbeat, positive people I’ve ever met. He can always find the silver lining. He wrote on his blog, “I logged onto my KCTV5 Facebook page and saw that I had 11 messages all from people who just wanted to help out and some who actually wanted to donate large sums of money to the cause…I was amazed, humbled and appreciative. God is good. You are too.”

He credits his ability to cope with these trying circumstances in part to his education at Park University. “My experience at Park enabled me to really hone in on the real story and the real focus when I was in Joplin. As a former student leader having served in multiple student leadership positions, I had to come face to face with people everyday, some in the best circumstances some in the not so good circumstances. At Park, I was afforded the luxury of soaring to new heights…”

Journalists are often justifiably criticized for their lack of humanity. I’m guessing this will never be an issue for Nima Shaffe. I hope his education at Park played a role not only in making him a good TV reporter, but in instilling in him a strong sense of humanity.

1 comment:

  1. if our emotions serve our humanity, better our circumstance by making us relate, then that is grounds for peace though relate-ability and connecting through vulnerability. I think we must ask ourselves what the utility of our emotions may be, and check them to see if our feelings, though real, may come from reality. Like many reports after 9/11 and after tragedy, emotions can lead us to unreasonable conclusions in anger. However, anger can be real, but will anger propel us as humans to a better place or will injecting love into the situation start to change things for the better? We are all human. And like you essentially said in other posts, what pain and circumstance causes evil to come out in men? It's not right, or good, and causes actual damage, but being "one-dimensional" works two ways: purely evil terrorist/criminal, or purely righteous citizen. If anyone is righteous and spotless, cast the first stone. I'm not, so I'll give what I've got, and that's love, which I believe will cause peace.