Sunday, November 19, 2006
My first interaction with the Washington Post’s Lonnae O’Neal Parker was when I read her fine piece with Joshua Partlow on Emily Perez, the first West Point graduate to be killed while on duty in Iraq.
Organizers did well recruiting her. She led a forum earlier this afternoon entitled “Method Reporting: Empathy as a Reporting Tool.”
What does method acting consist of? At its core, says O’Neal Parker, method acting creates complete reality on stage. Empathy as a reporting tool allows you to “record from the same emotional core” as your sources. Do your readers feel what you are feeling?
She was careful to note that using empathy as a reporting tool only helps if your “emotionally wired to empathy.” It works for her, she said, because she has effective emotional disorder.
“I can absolutely get emotional about a mustard commercial,” she quipped.
O’Neal Parker described how deeply sorrowful she felt that she, a mother of three, was sitting at the grave of an eight-year-old who had been shot to death. For this story, bringing her emotional subjectivity was important to the tone of the story.
On those assignments, she said: “If they send me to an achy place, I will bring back an achy story.”
O’Neal Parker warned against a common mistake; that reporting with empathy can turn out stories that can be vain and showy -- all without the writer knowing or feeling it.
On being less interested in covering the Miss USA Beauty Pageant in Baltimore, O’Neal Parker, then 37, decided to do some hanging around -- more intested in her own feelings being in a room full of gorgeous twenty-somethings than the pageant itself. Her feelings went right into her notebook when some people turned and look in her direction. It went into her story, too.
“Oh is that your mom?,” someone asked looking in her direction.
False call. Whew. One of the women’s actual mothers stood right behind her. Lucky for whoever said that.
O’Neal Parker encourages reporters to use sensory memory – what things feel, look and smell like. She offered a couple more tips:
We chatted on the way to her book signing. Good peoples.