I have written occasionally here about objectivity and humanity in reporting.
I call your attention today to an excellent piece on the topic by John Leland of the New York Times: Attached: When Reporting and Caring Are Intertwined.
The story inspires me to propose this ironclad rule of journalism ethics: It’s always OK for a journalist to change a light bulb for a source. (Read the piece; you’ll understand.)
Leland wrote at one point:
Once, when Fred started crying in the middle of an interview we were videotaping, I didn’t hug him, even though I wanted to. Some boundaries held.
I, too, have resisted the urge to hug when someone cried during an interview. Sometimes what the person says while crying or after the tears stop is an important part of the interview. But I did put my arm around a woman who was crying and embracing a huge portrait of her dead daughter during an interview about the girl’s suicide. At that point, the woman needed an arm on her shoulder and needed someone to steer her back to the couch, and I was the only person around.
I think I have otherwise refrained from initiating hugs with sources. But I have interviewed people about a lot of intimate topics. If a source wants to end such an interview with a hug, I join in the embrace.
Reporters get some of our best stories when we ask people to cross the boundaries they usually maintain around personal matters. That’s no time for the reporter to get fussy about boundaries.
Some of my earlier pieces on objectivity and humanity: