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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


Wall of Empathy in San Franciso (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu).

Wall of Empathy in San Franciso (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu).

The Dilemma of Empathy and the News

Anita Varma quoted in Psychology Today.

In her doctoral work at Stanford University, Anita Varma argues that journalism can fail to reach its potential when it limits itself to evoking empathy by focusing on the plights of individuals. When it comes to constructively addressing issues of social injustice, journalists should shift their frame to one of “moral solidarity”: documenting the societal, systemic causes of disparity, discrimination, and marginalization, by emphasizing the stake we all have in correcting injustice. She documents the rich but obscured history of solidarity in American journalism, and argues that as a journalistic frame, it “calls for people to be concerned not only for their own community’s lived conditions, but also for distant communities’ lived conditions, on the grounds that achieving social justice requires a commitment to a larger good beyond self or intragroup interest”.

Anita Varma quoted in Psychology Today (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu).