The place of anger in journalism

The study “Anger and the investigative journalist” by Richard Stupart from University of Groningen theorizes on the role of anger in journalism, particularly investigative journalism, based on a discourse analysis of investigative journalists’ reflections on anger.

Anger is often seen as a threat to the neutrality that journalists must maintain while working on a story. It is argued that intense feelings might lead journalists to misrepresent facts or apply overly colored values on them. Previous research on Pulitzer prize winners suggests that there are norms in journalism that privilege an approach where the journalist keeps their emotions out of the story.

In this paper, the author argues, through interviews situated in South Africa, that anger is in fact apt and useful in journalism. In the beginning of the article, he quotes an investigative journalist who argued that it is a part of being a good journalist to be motivated by anger at injustice.

There were sixteen semi-structured interviews conducted for this study. All of the interviewees were either involved or had been involved in investigative journalism. All the interviews were conducted over Zoom in 2021. 14 of the participants were male and 12 were white. The author notes that this reflects the demographics of investigative journalists in SA, but makes generalizing harder. The interviews were transcribed and thematically coded.

It was typical of the respondents to describe a moral feeling of anger rising in response to injustice. In addition to this, they consistently argued that feeling anger was normatively good, one arguing that “no apologies” are owed for the feeling. When discussing the use of anger for their work, more complicated answers arose. They often described anger as an aid or motivator to action, but argued that it needs to be controlled and managed. 

The downsides of anger that were described is the potential for it to cloud judgment in light of new information: contrary facts might be disregarded. The other factor was that it was described as exhausting to the point of physically affecting the journalist. The interviewees also agreed with the norm that emotions should not be visible in the writing. 

In conclusion, anger adds a moral dimension to the work, requires the maintenance of one’s own emotions, and additionally, allows for a construction of a moral community between the journalists and those who feel as they do.

The article “Anger and the investigative journalist” by Richard Stupart is in Journalism. (open access).

Picture: an angry girl by Julien L @julienlphoto

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