The Perils of Compassion Fatigue

MLA Citation:

Barrett, CJR By Liz Cox. “The Perils of Compassion Fatigue.” Columbia Journalism Review. N.p., 17 Jan. 2007. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.

Even if it has been 9 years since this article was published, it still possesses a massive amount of significance. The war in Iraq is something that all Americans are aware of, but it has lost its sting. We hear of unarmed civilians dying daily, but we don’t pay any attention; it has turned into muted background noise because we are all too wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life to worry about something happening thousands of miles away. As a result, we speak of the war as some far-off thing, checking in on any major happenings every now and then. What does this mean for journalists? It means that we cannot stop caring. If the people delivering the news lose compassion for the people and events they are reporting on, how much less will the audience hearing about them care?

This article taught me that compassion fatigue, not just in war but in any subject, is detrimental to both the quality of the story and the reputation of the journalist. If a reporter tells a story or recounts information that they don’t care about, the story loses its purpose; how can they be expected to deliver important breaking news of our country? This also raises the question- how are they to approach sensitive stories if they have no compassion for their subject? Using vague terms to describe the events of a story makes it deeply impersonal and implies that it is unimportant. However, this raised the question in my mind- Is this vagueness protecting privacy and maintaining respect for the family of the fallen, or is it just embracing “ignorance is bliss?” In the case of war, for example, using the term “in daily violence” and summarizing terrible war happenings in a mere sentence or two takes all of the sensitivity away from the fact that thousands of individual lives are being impacted daily by death, displacement, and danger. Each casualty encompassed in “daily violence” is unique and deserves to be respected.

I also learned that one solution to this dilemma is to always implement compassion when it comes to a story dealing with loss, war, or another traumatic incident. When loss of life, or even the possibility of it, is involved, journalists should show compassion from one human being to another. Even though every battle, explosion, and shooting, foreign or domestic, cannot be deeply delved into, journalists can at least refer to incidents individually, using names and specifics if possible, instead of grouping attacks into one huge category. By showing respect for the fallen and their kin, a journalist can show the importance of a story, as well as imply their feelings behind it without coming out and injecting subjective opinions into a report. This is something that I will keep in mind in my future as a journalist; unfortunately, a good majority of current events and daily news stories involve violence, so being able to implement compassion will be a beneficial skill.

The biggest takeaway for me from this article is the newfound knowledge of compassion fatigue, how to recognize it, and how to prevent it. By keeping in mind the fact that there is a human being affected behind every story, and by weaving an undertone of compassion through my words without blatantly stating my opinion, I will keep compassion fatigue out of my writing in my future career.


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