The Need for Listening and Empathy in Journalism – Engaging Empathy

Two weeks ago, I saw Ira Glass talk about how stories enable us to see ourselves in the lives of others.  “The story is a machine for empathy,” Glass has argued elsewhere. “It is a really powerful tool for imagining yourself in other people’s situations.” Here, Glass is concerned not only with what stories to cover, but how to tell those stories. If we want to begin better reflecting the lived experiences of our communities we need to tackle both.


A year ago, Andrew Haeg left his work in public broadcasting to develop what he called an “empathy engine” to help journalists better engage and understand communities. In a blog post announcing his new project, he quotes Jose Antonio Vargas’ keynote at the 2012 Online News Association conference. Vargas said that journalism “has given me the biggest gift that anybody could ever give me […] the gift of empathy. Of seeing and listening to people who may not agree with me and who feel different than I do.”


So the question of empathy has two facets: empathy in the newsroom, and the empathy our stories foster in our readers. What connects these two elements is the act of listening.


by Josh Stearns