By Lara Gates, Managing Editor, Simple Intentions
Working in a newsroom can be a rush. You spend all afternoon stacking and writing your show with one eye on the clock. And then, without warning something happens. And usually that “something” is not good news. It starts with accelerated chatter on the scanners, followed by phone calls to gather information while “launching” crews toward the activity. It could be a wrong way driver, or 19 “hotshot” firefighters gone missing or an active shooter. The team in the newsroom shifts gears and as the energy rises, every member moves into a place of efficiency and high alert. Each one has an important job to do, whether it be coordinating, reporting, shooting and editing video, writing and rewriting, fact-checking or graphics-building. In scenarios like this, we always work quickly to deliver as much information as we have confirmed to be true, in a way that is fair and informative to the audience. To do this job you need to move instantly into a place of “neutral.”
Whether it is a devastating act of nature or hideous atrocities that human beings do to one another, witnessing news at arm’s length can be tough. After the terrible 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, designer and tsunami survivor Nate Berkus said that when he was trying to find a way out of the aftermath of the storm he called a TV producer. You see, problem-solving under pressure is what we do.
Professionals like ER doctors and nurses, surgeons, hospice workers and first responders live with this need for neutral daily as well. In today’s climate sometimes even watching the news brings on feelings of anger or disbelief or even numbness. Finding neutral is a skill that can serve us all, no matter what our background or workplace or role. (It’s also a great parenting tool.)
When we are in a place of neutral it’s like taking a step back. We are watching and comprehending but breathing through the knee-jerk feelings. Perhaps most importantly, not finding neutral is an astronomical risk. People who struggle to find neutral fall mainly into two camps: Reactionary (angry) or Numb.
Reacting without pausing can bring about regret very quickly. When we say something in reaction sometimes we don’t actually mean what we say. And perhaps more often, what we say in reaction is laden with emotions and sometimes a hurtful tone or destructive language. We’ve all be there. And there is a simple fix. (Simple yes, but not easy.) Just pause. That’s it. Pause to process and let the emotions settle before responding.
The biggest danger to not navigating your way to neutral is the risk of going numb. Standing outside a home where a baby was pulled unresponsive from the pool happens in Phoenix all the time. And every time it breaks my heart. But for the first responders and news crews who have to report on the tragedy, it is sometimes a survival mechanism to “flip a switch” and report without emotion the facts of the story. But the most authentic and well-adjusted officers, firefighters and journalists I know remember to grieve the story afterward so that they don’t go numb.
“Feel the exhaustion, pain, and sadness later in private,” an anchor friend whom I admire said. “And you must make yourself feel it and process it or you will stop “feeling” going forward. You’ll become jaded professionally and emotionless, distant and walled off personally. In other words, it’s good to cry it out sometimes.”
I encourage you to practice awareness the next time you have your feet swept out from under you. Whether it be a deadline missed or a contract broken or a call from your child’s school. Step one is to take one beat, be aware and shift into neutral. And then wrap it up at the end of the day (or sometimes hourly) with allowing yourself to process the feelings. The more times I practice this shift, the more quickly I can make it. And best of all, I find my “neutral” self is my most productive and helpful contributor in all my relationships.