What are felt emotions

The emotion trap in journalism
"Felt Reality"

Journalistic reporting wants to address emotions and thus often obstructs the view of the facts. But journalists can also make their reflection processes visible during research and thus encourage reflection.

By Diemut Roether

Election evenings are hours of visible emotion in politics: joy and loud cheers for some, petrified faces, disappointment, and sometimes even tears for others. On such evenings, television coverage spends a lot of time describing these feelings. Questions are asked that are more reminiscent of those of sports reporters: “How shocked are you?” - “What was it?” - “Is that mild, terrible, catastrophic?” TV journalism, journalism in general, does not show itself only on such election evenings, looks for feelings and moods in political reporting.
We encounter this way of reducing complexity, this attempt to break down complicated political processes into emotions. My impression is: the more media report, the more they fall into this emotional trap. Because it is easier and, above all, faster to report on emotions, to arouse quick emotions, than to research the background. Former editor-in-chief of the news magazine The mirror Georg Mascolo once said: “If you know little, you have to mean a lot.” I would add: The less journalists know, the less they can assess a situation, the more they try to convey feelings.

Facts are becoming less important

The fast emotional reflex fits into our time. We like what our friends post on Facebook. We post happy or sad smileys. We love cute cat pictures. We are flooded with information on all channels - and react with quick affects: I like it, I don't like it. Thumbs up or away with it.
The small portable devices on which we use messages amplify this. We use them for both private communication and for taking in information. We use them when we are waiting for the subway or the train. We surf, we scroll, we scan. We are looking for a quick emotional kick. It takes time and concentration to read a long, reflective article. We usually don't have this time in the short interim times when we pass the time with our smartphones in search of a quicker cheer.
We live in a time when feelings gain importance and facts lose importance. The word "post-factual" has been voted Word of the Year 2016 by the Society for German Language. “Post factual” is an appropriate German translation of the English term “post-truth”, which has been around for a long time in the Anglo-Saxon language area. The American author Ralph Keyes published the book back in 2004 The Post-Truth Era.
One of those who established the term in the German-speaking world in the public debate was the physicist and philosopher Eduard Kaeser. He wrote in August 2016 in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung of the “post-factual age”, which he characterized: “The factoid is replaced by the factoid: the management of whims.”
What is meant by this can be illustrated with a quote from Berlin's top candidate for the Alternative for Germany party, Georg Pazderski, who said: “It's not just about statistics, it's about how the citizens feel. What you feel is also reality. ”That was his reaction when he was told that the crime statistics did not show any significant increase in crime against foreigners.

Emotions work immediately

With this perceived reality, not only the AfD tries to make politics. Felt reality is a breeding ground for conspiracy theorists and for pied piper of all stripes. Feelings often have it easier than facts because they do not have to be proven, because they simulate immediacy and appear to be true. Anyone who argues against a perceived reality has a hard time, because arguments have to be understood and related, while emotions work immediately.
This felt reality dominates the social networks. On platforms like Facebook, individuals and groups put their own stories against established journalism. Rumors are strung together, resentments are linked to conspiracy theories that find their fans there: “Finally someone says what I feel, think, fear.” Empirical evidence counts for nothing in these forums; perceived reality takes its place.
These social networks are a seductive source for journalists. They think they can "watch the people in the mouth" there and find out what they are feeling and thinking. “This is how the internet reacts” articles have become the new standard in online journalism. But they are no more informative than a street survey on television. They are entertaining accessories, infotainment.
In 2016, media scientist Bernhard Pörksen wrote in Die Zeit, trash and serious news were competing on the Internet “in direct immediacy on the platforms of the universe”. It is governed by the “principle of popularity. We deliver what you like. "

"You shouldn't be bored"

The possibilities of usage analyzes offered by the network allow editorial offices to follow in real time, as it were, how their contributions are being accepted. This is why online editorial offices write so many articles on the same topics. The excitation has to be served, so the same information is processed a little differently. And if an article “doesn't work” on the Internet, it is simply rewritten.
Journalists learn early on that it is important to arouse emotions in the audience. To grab the readers, to pull them into the story, so that they read the article to the end or watch the contribution to the end. You shouldn't be bored, is the top priority. It becomes dangerous when emotion becomes an end in itself, when it replaces information and research. The web overflows with stories that aim at quick emotion, at feeling, but which do not trigger reflection.
If we journalists want to surf the wave of emotion, we shouldn't be surprised if it someday spills over us. We shouldn't be surprised if all these emotional kicks that we are constantly trying to generate turn against us at some point. It is the spirits that we called.

Making complexity sexy

“Lying press” is also such an emotional, “post-factual” term that expresses frustration among many other things. Frustration that the world is not as simple as some would like it to be. Frustration over false promises, over illusions that have been awakened. Are you frustrated because the article once again failed to deliver what the headline promised? Because we created a feeling, but leave the user alone because we don't encourage them to think further? Because maybe we didn't think further ourselves?
Research and reflection are far too often neglected in everyday journalistic business. In the tightly staffed editorial offices, it is often only about mass production. It is not for nothing that the Netzwerk Recherche association demands that research should be a matter of course for editorial offices and media companies and that it should be "meaningfully integrated into everyday work". Research is a craft, writes the network: "Just as a tiler lays tiles, a journalist has to research."
As a young journalist, I learned during my training that my job was to reduce complexity. But if you keep telling people that things are very simple, at some point they'll believe it too. Then they no longer want to deal with complex issues. The job of journalism these days is more to make complexity sexy. To convey that complexity is not something to be afraid of, but that it is part of life.
When I do research, the findings change my assessment and also my feelings about the facts. We should let the audience participate in these reflection processes and invite them to reflect too. Taking the audience seriously means not fooling them into believing that there is absolute security or simple solutions. Taking it seriously means making it clear that we have to live with fears if we want to keep our freedom. Taking reflexes seriously means not simply using reflexes, but rather inviting them to reflect.


Diemut Roether is the editor in charge of epd medien.

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