My Talk with NBC Correspondent Stephanie Gosk: the good, the bad and the ugly side of journalism
by Danielle Church
Ever since I’ve been in college, two words have followed me: war reporting.
The first time I ever saw them is when I wrote a research paper for an English class just to understand more about what war reporting really is; the second was when I met a man while working at a hotel in Chicago who led reporters around the Middle East; and now, I had the chance to actually interview someone who was, at one point in her life, a war reporter.
Stephanie Gosk is a national correspondent for NBC News. She has covered everything from the Flint water crisis to Laquan McDonald’s death in Chicago to the war in Iraq.
While Gosk was in Baghdad, her mother – an elementary school teacher – was driving home from work in the states. She was listening to the radio when they started to play the audio of an American kid in his late 20s, who had been kidnapped, being beheaded in Baghdad. Knowing that her daughter was there, Gosk’s mother immediately pulled to the side of the road where she began to shake and cry.
She wouldn’t tell Gosk that story until years later though.
“I felt terrible about it,” Gosk said. “I really did and the trouble is…the tricky thing for family and friends is that they watch the stories that you do in places like that and the stories just by nature show the worst images of that moment. I mean it honestly looks like it’s a constant running gun battle and the truth is that it’s not as dangerous as it looks on T.V.”
That doesn’t mean gruesome events don’t happen while covering wars though and according to Gosk, it certainly does exert some guilt knowing that as a reporter, you’re only there for a short time and get to eventually go home, while people who live there can’t escape the war zone. She said there were a couple of years in Iraq where there were three to four car bombings a day, but her team was able to help a lot of the Iraqi’s.
“We did actually help them, a lot of Iraqi’s that we worked with ended up coming to the U.S.,” Gosk said. “We had translators that we worked with that became our friends and colleagues.”
The best way for war reporters to deal with the guilt is by helping those around them and by doing their jobs to the best of their ability.
“You try to do your job as best as you can and make sure that you tell their stories as accurately and fully as you can so people understand,” Gosk said.
Above all, Gosk reminded me of the importance of always providing a human element to the story. While she was overseas, she said one of the hardest things to do was not get caught up in which media organization was in the most dangerous spot and would potentially get the only shot.
“Sometimes because you’re so caught up in it, you’re not telling that human story,” Gosk said. “So, it certainly was developing a sensitivity to that and explaining on a human level what it was like to be there as opposed to ‘they shot, the other guy shot back, they moved forward,’ that kind of stuff. Instead of just that play-by-play to make sure you convey that humanity and sometimes you don’t think about doing it when you’re in that environment.”
Whether in a war zone or in the United States though, Gosk says one of the worst parts about being a journalist is talking to a person who just lost someone in a tragic way. It’s not the first time I’ve been told this. I once had a conversation with WGN-TV’s Marcella Raymond who has covered crime for years, and she explained to me how it still doesn’t get easier for her despite the fact she’s been doing the job for so long and now only works a few days a week.
I’ve thought about this a lot because as a 21-year-old, I can’t imagine having to walk up to a person’s doorstep that just lost someone they loved in such a terrible way. It’s part of the job though and based on all the advice I’ve received from Gosk and Raymond as well as my professors at DePaul, the best way to handle it is to just be a human in that moment.
It’s our job as reporters to show people respect and be a human, it’s not just for the sake of our stories but for the sake of our sources who just lost someone dear to them and who deserve to be treated as human beings – they aren’t just a quote for the story.
I’ve especially learned this having to interview a sexual assault survivor and a disabled person for the first time this year. In those situations, I’ve felt I’ve truly been able to apply the advice I’ve received from my mentors to handle the situation in the best way possible.
In the end, the sexual assault survivor told me I did a good job of making her feel comfortable despite the fact she and I had conversations back and forth about doing the interview because it would be filmed for a broadcast segment.
I felt like I had done my job correctly and I was able to tell an important story, especially from my source’s point of view. Although I have never been in a war zone, these are the types of situations that prepare me for the difficult interviews I will eventually have.
Between running around to get the best sources, long hours, deadlines that loom over your head and stories that almost never go the way you expect them to, journalism is most certainly not a glamorous industry. It’s not just about the byline that gets put in the newspaper or on the website, and it’s most certainly not about the glitz and glam people might think T.V. is all cracked up to be. There’s so much more work in it than that.
It’s about telling stories, informing the public about the things that really matter. However, to say that journalists don’t receive anything great out of being a reporter would be a complete lie, and Gosk sums it up perfectly.
“One of the great things about doing this job is it gives you an incredible perspective on life,” Gosk said. “You’re constantly being exposed to people in different places, going through a variety of different challenges and that allows you to appreciate your own life in a different way. And then a very close second to that, (journalism) is such a dynamic job, you’re constantly learning new things, you’re going to new places, that, to me, continues to be a thrill…that to me is still exciting and I can’t imagine that I’ll reach a point when it’s not.”
As a student I haven’t traveled quite as much as Gosk has, but I certainly can relate because stories have brought me to different parts of Chicago I might otherwise have never visited. Gosk couldn’t me more right – for any journalist that is truly passionate about what they’re doing, there are a multitude of perspectives on all the things happening around us in this world, and I can’t think of a better way to see them firsthand than by being a journalist, war reporter or not.