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INSIDE TRACK: Emotional involvement in journalism is a fact of life

It IS not a new debate and once again it has become a bone of contention.

I am talking about the respective positions taken by two of Britain's veteran news correspondents over how conflicts such as the one in Gaza should be reported.

In this instance David Loyn, the BBC's Afghanistan correspondent, is at odds with the way Jon Snow, of Channel 4 News, made a call on YouTube for engagement from his audience saying "something must be done" over what is happening in Gaza.

"Together we can make a difference", insisted Mr Snow in his appeal. He used only a Channel 4 studio, but not the channel itself.

Mr Snow's call for engagement is reminiscent of what another former veteran reporter, the BBC's Martin Bell, referred to as a "journalism of attachment" when he covered the 1990s war in Bosnia. In short, what both correspondents are saying is that a reporter can be emotionally involved with the story they are covering. Such journalism, Martin Bell once said, is one that "cares as well as knows".

The danger with this, argue opponents, is that, should journalists become crusaders rather than mere reporters of fact, they are in danger of becoming propagandists. The tendency then may be to forfeit tough, scrupulous reporting for morality tales. At the risk of sounding evasive or non-committal, I can easily relate to arguments from both sides.

In opting for attachment over impartiality, and emotionalism over objectivity, I do not doubt the reporter runs the risk of becoming campaigner and activist, rather than dispassionate recorder of fact. But is this necessarily a bad thing?

Some of the finest reporting in history has been openly partisan or emotionally committed. American correspondent John Reed was a committed Communist when he wrote his series of eyewitness dispatches from the Russian Bolshevik Revolution that became the classic book, Ten Days That Shook The World. Or think of Martha Gellhorn's impassioned accounts of the Spanish Civil War, John Pilger's searing investigations of American involvement in Vietnam or Donald Wood's editorial stand against apartheid South Africa. All of these were examples of exemplary reporting.

A pertinent point is that emotive or "attached" reporting is fine provided it is for the right cause. The problem then is that the rights and wrongs of any cause differ among those audiences that consume news. The respective cases made recently by either side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide over Gaza are a case in point.

My late colleague Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times - whom I sometimes worked alongside - was a passionate proponent of emotive, committed journalism. Two years ago, before she was tragically killed in Syria, her work shone a spotlight on, and gave a voice to, people who have no voice.

Marie Colvin knew news and truth are not always the same thing. Her perspective, like that of Jon Snow, Martin Bell and others who believe in "attached" journalism is no holier-than-thou approach to their profession. It is simply reporters doing what they are supposed to do.

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