Check Your Emotions at the Door


Every job or career is going to have it’s challenges, and we often focus a good amount of our college careers on trying to understand and prepare for some of those challenges.

We are often tested on topics like, “What should I wear on the job? Who should I go to if I have a problem? How do I balance my personal life with my work life? How do I act like I have a clue what I’m doing?”

I felt pretty competent going into my internship that I had been given the knowledge to be able to handle and address the everyday issues of the working world, but recently I found myself in a situation that had never come up in a class or quiz.

ImageI was put on a breaking news team to go photograph the church, congregation and apartment complex that Whitney Heichel attended, was a part of, and lived in. I was outside the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Gresham when members of her congregation started spilling out after their first service since her body had been found.

They weren’t very happy to have media there, they looked uncomfortable and it was clear that it had been an emotional service. I felt like I was an unwelcome reminder of the recent tragedy. Seeing these people so sad, and seeing where this young woman (who was the same age as me) lived her life was really emotional for me and caught me off guard. I tried to remain as professional as possible, but it was really difficult for me.

Photographing her life settings just reminded me of how tragic her death is and how I couldn’t imagine losing any of my friends to those circumstances.

What I took away from this experience is that as a photographer and journalist, I need to learn how to balance my emotions and my duty as a member of the media. The media are the voice of the community and is it our job to document how her her death is affecting her friends, family and congregation.

This was the first emotional story I have had to photograph for my internship, but I’m positive that it will not be the last.

Eilise Ward

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7 Responses to Check Your Emotions at the Door

  1. Eilise, I know exactly where you are coming from. I was also put on the task of covering this story and I found myself having the same problems. When I was expressing my feelings with a friend she said “I know that you need to remain professional but I hope you don’t lose your emotion either. If you are the person that can show compassion without breaking down and crossing that boundary you might just be the person they want to talk to. And for the love of god don’t say things like I’m sorry you lost a loved one, just say it how it is. I’m sorry your wife died.” I personally hope these things don’t get easier to cover for me, I just hope that I am able to channel my emotions in a better way.

  2. pdxsx says:

    Very good post, Elise. A touching testament to remind ourselves that while the job still needs to get done, it costs us nothing to be kind and sensitive to another person’s emotions.

    ~J

  3. katshannon says:

    Well written Eilise! I have only been reading the newspaper and online articles on the story, but can completely understand how difficult that balance would be in person. I think it takes a really strong person to be able to be so close to an issue physically and mentally, yet keep a distance emotionally. Great job, and I know people will appreciate a compassionate and professional job well-done.

  4. Troy says:

    Try to keep reminding yourself that you’re not a tabloid reporter, you’re not trying to sensationalize the tragedy; you’re informing the masses. Heichel’s story AND her family’s are important for the community as a whole.

    It’s tough, though, and I think photojournalists have a particularly difficult time with this (you’re probably already aware of Kevin Carter’s troubles or the infamous port-au-prince/fabienne cherisma photos that villified photogs.)

  5. hailayn says:

    Personally, I’ve never been placed in a position through my job that requires me to juggle emotions along with producing results, so I can only imagine how difficult that must be. Through your reflection, it sounds like you did a good job and will continue to do so in the future. Like Alex mentioned, you have to learn how to apply your professionalism, but also your compassion. Best of luck 🙂

  6. There is an employee at my work who has trouble leaving his personal life at home and makes the work situation awkward to be in. I think balancing emotions in the workplace is hard and definitely a skill to be developed. In your situation, emotions can be used in your advantage to tell a more inspiring story with your photographs. So while you maybe be getting glared at by unhappy people make sure to communicate that emotion in the photos that get published.

  7. I’ve also been in this situation and felt exactly how you felt Eilise when I interviewed a man for a story who had just learned his illness would be fatal. I found that being completely honest and as real as possible was the only thing that allowed a quality interview. As journalists, we have opportunities in these situations to show the public that we are real people, but can remain objective. Glad everything worked out okay in your situation.

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