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Emotional intelligence in news presentation

It is now widely believed that emotional intelligence is a critical component in seeking success across the board. Students of this concept define it simply as “the capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”

It presupposes that an individual be aware of their surrounding and respond to the surrounding appropriately. Take the case of a Christian gathering; emotional intelligence would dictate that when a brother informs you that his cousin has a drinking problem that your response should be empathic rather than “halleluiah” or “amen” which would suggest rejoicing at their misfortune.

One space where lack of emotional intelligence is displayed in prime time is in the business of news. Too often a story breaks that has all the bearing of the values of bad news: bloody, bizarre, conflict etc.  How the editors seek to frame it often would reflect their own emotional intelligence.

Take example of a dam that bursts killing people, or leaves mayhem  and tragedy in its trail; Does it matter what words we choose?  Does Ulinzi Stars torment, whip or discipline Kariobangi Sharks in the three to nil victory?

On the cover page that displays the pictures of victorious Green Eagles of Nigeria celebrating their victory, do we display, next to it, the sorry picture of the boy who has failed his exams at Nyakemincha Primary School?

But even more dramatic is on television and radio. Increasingly, the evening news sometimes appear to emphasise display of the latest fashion, the best smiles and the most exquisite attempt at catwalk. Then with a smile, the news reader tells you that 40 people are dead following the Solai Dam tragedy  in Nakuru.

The cut takes you to the scene where a reporter walks you through the village now run down with mud wailing and all. When the story is done you are brought back to the studio where the man or woman presenting news is fidgeting with their tablet.

After a few seconds of their eyes fixed on the gadget, the news reader looks up and the next sentence is “moving on…” then starts with the next story, still with a smile, and without any reference to what has gone on.

Media scholars in Kenya are not doing us any favours by not exploring the implications of these displays of lack of emotional intelligence in news presentation. The average audience is likely to empathise with the underdogs, the victims of a tragedy or at the very least engage with the story that is being presented.

Human-interest stories are popular. However, when the news presenter does not appear to be capable of connecting with that story then the consumer could be left confused wondering at the story that is being brought to them and the credibility of that media. 

Lately, Kenyan media have become obsessed with stories of tragedy. The house girl who poisons a family in Migori is featured prominently, as is the story of the cop who shoots a girlfriend, or the wife who stabs a husband etc.

But somewhere in Makueni, a doctor has just successfully completed a procedure of replacing a knee of a senior citizen. This feat completed in Makueni and not in Nairobi and not by some expert from India is the stuff of which development stories are made. Told with empathy it becomes the stuff of which emotionally intelligent stories are framed.

The newsroom work in Kenya is a work in progress. Presentation of news of course has greatly changed. But from an emotional intelligence point of view, there is still a distance to travel.   — The writer is the Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University.

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