Applying What I Know About Human Rights

The blogs assigned in this class throughout the semester have driven me to pieces of research and journalism that I never would have stumbled upon otherwise. The lessons I learned, particularly about compassion fatigue and the intervention dilemma, have reshaped the way I look at global issues.

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Susan D. Moeller’s article opened my eyes about the various problems that arise from compassion fatigue, but it also helped me understand how and why compassion fatigue occurs. I think the biggest takeaway from her article was her statement that people become frustrated and disengage when they are faced with a problem that doesn’t have a simple solution.

I myself am guilty of this very thing. Several times in my life I’ve watched the news and have gotten fired up over a particular issue, following the story every night. Then, no less than two weeks later I all but forgot about it because the media stopped covering the issue, even though it hadn’t necessarily been solved. As a human being, in the future I’m going to honestly work harder to continue following stories, regardless of how much saturation they get in the news, until the issue has been solved. If that means I have to sign a petition or share an article to raise awareness, I’m going to do what I can. As a journalist, I’m going to be more aware of things that are happening around me.

Just today there was an article published by a local news station in South Carolina about a woman who recently escaped a human trafficking ring. The article quotes a woman who works for a non-profit fighting to end human trafficking who says that human trafficking is everywhere, including small towns and big cities in the United States.

Since I’ve been in this class and started finding articles like these, I’ve made the issue of human trafficking part of my conversations with my family and friends. I’ve shared the articles I have found with them and have encouraged them to be aware of the fact that it exists within our own borders. I hope to continue practicing these types of conversations with other issues related to human rights.

I’m also going to do my best to pitch story ideas in the future that focus their attention on human rights violations that are occurring in the United States. I want to eliminate any biases from these stories and center them on the facts of the problem and potential resources that could accelerate change. Hopefully small steps like these can help to make a difference.


Journalism Trumps Activism

Joel Simon addresses the impact social media has had on journalism in his article, “What’s the Difference Between Activism and Journalism?” He quotes several journalists who claim that social media has caused lines to blur between activists and journalists because everyday people can now present their experiences for the world to see. Last week we face timed with Morgan Till, a producer for PBS’s NewsHour, who shared experiences that support Simon’s point. Till shared that one of the most significant changes he’s seen in his industry over the past 17 years he has been covering international stories is the heightened danger that journalists now face. One could argue that the blurred line between activists and journalists is one of the main reasons for this problem. As Simon addresses, governments associate activists as being against their cause, therefore, if journalists are mistaken for activists, or “citizen journalists,” they are seen as a threat and their lives could potentially be at risk when covering these foreign territories.

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However, not all activists are extreme. An article published by an environmental activist in Hong Kong discusses the harmful impacts the smog has on the people of Hong Kong. The author gives facts and examples to support his case. But I would still not consider him a journalist. The article is very opinionated, and is posted in a blog forum rather than an official website.

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Photo credit.

In contrast, an article written in the South China Morning Post covers the same topic, but provides a graph showing air quality measurements in Hong Kong over the course of a week, something much more reliable than the opinion of one man.

There will always be value in having your work backed by a professional news organization. The media hold governments to a higher standard and hold their practice to a high standard as well. A citizen journalist’s work is usually not validated unless a larger news outlet has shared it. For this reason, there will always be a difference in activism and journalism.

Citizen Journalism Exposing Human Trafficking

Citizen journalism is by no means real journalism. It is often times filled with opinions, lacking secondary sources, and written (or if it’s a video) edited sloppily. But when it comes to exposing a violation or several violations of human rights, citizen journalism can sometimes be exactly what the world needs to see in order for people to wake up and do something.

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An article written in the Tampa Tribune about human trafficking in Florida covers all the bases of what is considered by journalistic standards to be a “good story.” And it is. The author, Mitchell, includes interviews with a recently released trafficking victim, head of the police force in that county, as well as the head of a nonprofit in the area dedicated to stop human trafficking. Mitchell’s interviews give insight to the good things that are already being done to make progress to stop trafficking, however, her piece isn’t exactly a call-to-action.

 A blog post written by the NGO, The Human Trafficking Project, exposes human trafficking occurring in our own state of Texas. Human trafficking can be a difficult thing for a citizen journalist to expose or even recognize because it by nature is such a shadowy industry. As a result, often times NGO’s trying to end human trafficking wind up becoming citizen journalists, which benefits all parties. Their organization gets more credibility and exposure once they have hard evidence and it also creates a bigger impact in getting people involved for their mission.

 An article written in The Courier is another example of how citizen journalism exposing human trafficking, especially in an area close to home can get coverage from larger media outlets and create waves for change.

The Challenge of Reporting Human Trafficking

Roy Gutman, correspondent for Newsday, suggests in the article “Journalism, Media, and the Challenge of reporting on Human Rights” that often times war crimes are not reported accurately because “reporters do not know them when they see them” (113).

Bill Kovach supports this opinion and stated in the same article that the media “focus on the drama, not the broader questions” (113).

A striking takeaway from this article is the disconnect between the mainstream media and human rights NGO’s. This article addresses the lack of knowledge on both ends of the issue. Journalists often times do not have a thorough understanding of the extent of human rights violations and therefore cannot even recognize a story even if they see it (114). Conversely, NGO’s oftentimes don’t fully comprehend the extent of the complexity that goes into the stories and messages the media creates (116).

Journalists might not always realize where human rights violations are occurring (116). The Department of Homeland Security states on their website, “Human trafficking is a hidden crime as victims rarely come forward to seek help because of language barriers, fear of the traffickers, and/or fear of law enforcement.” To combat this risk, the site also provides a list of indicators to help people recognize signs of human trafficking. Reading a short list like this is one step journalists should take to further their education about human rights violations.

Once a journalist recognizes and reports an instance of human trafficking, they must right it in such a way that will make it relevant to their audience. Though everyone should take an interest in human rights violations, that is unfortunately not always the case. The “battle for space” in the mainstream media is a challenge journalists face and therefore must be able to present their stories in a way that will get the issue enough coverage to really be heard (116).

While circumstances are not completely ideal, capable journalists can find a way to reach people and evoke action to help combat human rights violations.

The Intervention Dilemma and Human Trafficking

Susan Paterno brings to light in her article, “ The Intervention Dilemma,” the struggle of journalists who cover stories involving violations of human rights. The intervention dilemma undeniably applies to journalists who cover human trafficking. Where do journalists draw the line regarding intervention? The answer isn’t simple. While the decision to intervene in these situations is partially dependent on a journalist’s personal convictions, it should also depend upon a standard held by all journalists regarding intervention.

Journalists must speak up

Journalists must speak up

As Paterno addresses in her article, a large part of this dilemma arises from the fear that a story might change or lose its integrity if the journalist intervenes. So which takes priority? Is it the risk of presenting a conflict of interest or the risk of further harm being brought upon these survivors?


The Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking prioritizes spreading awareness in order to eradicate human trafficking. While awareness is a crucial step in this process, can journalists covering human trafficking do more to help the cause? Because often times human trafficking victims are found in large numbers, another journalists face an additional problem; even if they wanted to help these people escape their circumstances, they are most likely incapable of helping all of them.

I think the best thing journalists covering human trafficking stories can do is to implement timeliness and to clarify their messages. As the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking points out, often times human trafficking gets lumped into other issues such as immigration. Journalists must get the stories to the audience it will resonate most with…an audience who will care enough to take action and help.

Aside from that, I think journalists should inform authorities in whatever region or country where they are reporting about the specific injustices they have witnessed. These reporters should not expect their audience to take action unless they are invested enough to take action themselves.

Combatting Compassion Fatigue

One of our most cherished rights in the United States is freedom of the press. Susan D. Moeller points out in her article “How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death,” that throughout American history, journalists have taken on a role to challenge the government in order to hold elected officials to a standard and protect the public interest. As a result, the media has become the public’s primary authority for reliable information about current events in America and abroad.

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 11.25.45 AMWhile journalists try to cover the issues they feel are important, often times only “top priority” stories get coverage, leaving other equally important stories in the shadows. The public has become increasingly dependent on the media for information. Often times if the media isn’t covering an issue, people won’t know about it, or if they do will assume it isn’t relevant.

Moeller quotes AP writer, Tom Kent, who says that in order for Americans to be interested in international stories, they must be written thoughtfully. Another problem arises here because journalists covering international events often times are “parachute” reporters, and don’t know the full extent of the details involved in a particular crisis. Therefore they are more invested in getting the generalized details of a story out there rather than digging in to the “how” and “why” factors of it.

This phenomenon directly relates to the worldwide issue of human trafficking. Generally, most people have heard about it and know it exists, but their interest typically halts there. As Moeller says, when a quick or clear resolution to a problem isn’t presented, often time’s people lose interest due to compassion fatigue.

I think the best way to combat this is to focus on local stories that address which actions can be taken to help stop human trafficking. Laws are being made to combat human trafficking. People do care about this issue, they just don’t always know how to begin in the effort to make it stop. If journalists find ways to reach people on a personal level so that they feel they have access to a situation, it could make a world of difference.

Chris Hansen Fights Human Trafficking

Chris Hansen has been exposing human rights violations through investigative reporting for NBC’s Dateline since 2004. In 2005, he went undercover in Cambodia for Dateline and exposed a sex trade that enslaved 30,000 Cambodian children. The details of the story are horrific, detailing how children as young as five years old were captured and sold for sex.

Two years later in 2007, Hansen covered the tragic story of two girls named Lannie and Anna who were thrown into a sex trafficking ring in Malaysia. In his interview with the girls, they revealed that although they escaped their situation and were moving on, they had left behind 15 other girls who still needed to be saved.

Hansen’s stories not only expose atrocities such as these, but take one step further to discuss what is being done to combat them. In 2008, just three years after his coverage of human trafficking in Cambodia, the Cambodian National Assembly approved the law on anti-human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

maxresdefaultHansen’s most recent work is his support for Airline Ambassadors, which is non-profit organization who are dedicated to taking action against human trafficking by providing humanitarian aid to orphans and educating people about human trafficking and how to spot it.

Hansen has won eight Emmy’s for investigative reporting, outstanding coverage of a news story and outstanding coverage of breaking news. His career in journalism is an example of how journalism can be used to make real changes in the world for the greater good.

Solutions Journalism to Fight Human Trafficking

In America we are blessed to have freedom of the press as one of our core rights. We live in an age where the media has more power than most people even realize. The advancement of technology and widespread coverage of national and international issues give U.S. citizens access to an extraordinary amount of information, but who are the people who choose which stories are worthy to be told? The finger points to us, journalists.

Roger Cohen wrote in his article, “A Journalist’s ‘Actual Responsibility,’” that traditionally, journalists are supposed to “move on” after reporting a story. He argues that every so often there will be a story that grabs a journalist and won’t let him or her go.

A challenge arises for journalists regarding human rights. Pitching stories that sell is a crucial aspect of a journalist’s career. Often times stories involving human rights are so gruesome and disheartening that the challenge not only becomes pitching this type of story, but writing it in such a way that will inspire readers to evoke change.

Photo Credit: solutions

Photo Credit: solutions

One organization working toward journalism that inspires change is the Solutions Journalism Network. They explain on their website, “solutions journalism is rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems,” and it “focuses not just on what may be working, but how and why it appears to be working.” This is a fresh and commendable approach to journalism, and ties to journalists joining the fight for enhancing human rights globally.

There are countless organizations working to end human trafficking, but not many people know about them unless they are looking for them. Implementing solutions journalism to discuss these organizations and their efforts, regarding what they are doing correctly to help the cause, or even things they could improve upon, would help journalists go one step further toward inspiring action and finding a solution to end human trafficking for good.

Human Trafficking and the United States

When one thinks of slavery, he or she probably thinks back to the American Civil War and the enslavement of African Americans. Even Googling “slavery and the United States” will churn out a list of results referring to this time period. However, there are more slaves in the world today than there have ever been in the history of the world. So who are they? Where are they? And what is the United States doing to help find and free these individuals?

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One man set out on a journey to answer these questions and his findings were astonishing. In an interview with, Ben Skinner, author of “A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face with Modern-Day Slavery,” elaborated about his experience posing as a “buyer.” He explains that even after 300 international treaties have been made in hopes of abolishing slavery worldwide, 27 million people today are being “forced to work, held through fraud, under threat of violence, for no pay beyond subsistence.

In 2013 an article was published on the Washington Post including a map showing the estimated 29.8 million slaves and where in the world they live. According to this map, 60,000 of those enslaved persons are being held captive within our own borders of the United States.

An article published in 2014 by CNN Money released a report covering slave labor in the U.S., particularly focusing on the “how” question. Though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was not mentioned within the article, it did provide a list of actions businesses and border officials should implement in order to put a halt to these injustices.

FOX News published an article written by U.S. Representative Diane Black, who helped pass the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2014, which amended the Trafficking Victims Protections Reauthorization Act of 2005. The bill emphasizes increased funding for specialized training programs for law enforcement officers, first responders, health care officials, child welfare officials, juvenile justice personnel, prosecutors and judicial personnel.

If you look for this information, it can be easily found…but what if it never occurred to you to look? Something to focus on in the future is to make this issue more saturated in our vocabulary. Simply sharing information with your friends can plant seeds that have the potential to spawn action.

The Right to Take a Stand

Throughout the history of humanity, human rights have evolved significantly. In a comprehensive overview of the History of Universal Human Rights, Moira Rayner states that “the most common ‘universal rights’ are the right to life; to freedom; to own property; citizenship rights, rights to standards of good behavior by governments, and social, economic and cultural rights.” However, even in developed countries throughout the world, including the United States, some of these vital human rights written in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have yet to be written as law. As journalists, we can help in the fight for human rights by exposing the harsh realities that exist in our world. Not just in third-world countries, but in our own backyards there are opportunities to help fight for a better future for people in local communities. A good place to start would be to research non-profits in your community and their mission statements. Often times these organizations will have goals that relate to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Photo Credit: Thanks-Giving Square Foundation

Photo Credit: Thanks-Giving Square Foundation

For example, Thanksgiving Square, which is located in the heart of Downtown Dallas, promotes Thanks-Giving in order to bring people across different cultures to better understand one another. They have an interfaith council that meets once a month in order to discuss differences within their religions in a peaceful and civil way. By better understanding our differences, we can help move toward a future where we become more tolerant of each other’s belief, which ties into the freedom of religion. This is just one example of many opportunities to become more involved in the fight for bettering human rights, and to that end, bettering humanity.