No shame in crying: why journalists should show some emotion

I had a moment in my car this morning.

I had just parked up when a very familiar voice stopped me in my tracks.

It was that of one of the most dignified, resilient, patient and public-spirited people I have ever come across.

One whose family’s life was turned completely upside-down 20 years ago, when I was news editor of The Bath Chronicle.

I – like all journalists who ever meet them – am in awe of Steve Hall and his wife Pat.

Today police have revealed a new ray of hope in their battle to find the killer of the Halls’ daughter Melanie, who was last seen in a Bath nightclub in June 1996.

Over 18 years, my colleagues and I at the Chronicle covered every twist and turn of the Hall family’s agony, including arrests, the discovery of her remains by the M5 in Gloucestershire, and her desperately moving funeral in Bath Abbey.

Melanie pic canva

Picture montage: The Bath Chronicle

Reporters such as Imogen Sellers, Wendy Best, Samantha Walker and Siobhan Stayt were regular visitors to the couple’s home near Bradford on Avon.

And Steve threw himself into supporting the community that was supporting him, chairing Bath City Football Club, and teaching art classes.

I had known today’s news was coming after talking to the Chron reporter covering the story a few days ago.

But the sound of Steve’s voice – quietly dignified as always, but wearier – and the pictures of Pat left me fighting back the tears this morning.

I sat in my car for some time before I could get out.

The Chronicle’s Tim MacFarlan says it was a privilege to interview Pat and Steve for today’s coverage.

And he’s right.

The best parts of journalism are a privilege.

Being allowed into people’s lives at their most emotionally vulnerable times is an immense honour.

I hope that over the last two decades, the Chronicle, the BBC, the Western Daily Press, ITV, the Wiltshire Times, and other news outlets have repaid that honour by treating the Hall family with care and sensitivity.

I am certain that I am by no means the first journalist to be tangibly moved by their courage and determination, and by the articulacy they have shown in the face of such pain.

I’m currently reading The Ethical Journalist by the great Tony Harcup, who tells the story of BBC reporter Barbara Plett, who informed listeners she had cried at the frailty of the PLO leader Yasser Arafat in 2004.

Then BBC governors ruled that seasoned journalist Plett had broken impartiality rules by letting her emotions get the better of her.

Luckily, wiser heads seemed to have prevailed last year when another BBC reporter, Graham Satchell, was visibly moved as he ended a live report from Paris in the wake of the terror attacks on that city.

There have been odd occasions when I have seen reporters get too close to stories, and lose the sense of proportion that is needed for objective coverage.

But actually some of the best journalism comes from emotional involvement.

I’m sure I won’t be the only journalist with a lump in my throat as interviews with Pat and Steve Hall are played out today.

And there’s no shame in that.







One thought on “No shame in crying: why journalists should show some emotion

  1. David Gedhill

    I still have the letter that Steve and Pat wrote to the Chronicle to thank us for all the coverage and our sensitive handling of the story. Addressed to me it opened with the words ‘We do not know you, but feel you are a friend’.
    Never before and never since have I received anything like it. I was reduced to tears.

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