About rileycoven

Arts and Life Editor for SMU's Campus Weekly. Student studying Journalism and Film.

“Free the Slaves” Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalism comes in many forms. It can be anything from a passerby with a phone camera documenting the day’s events to a reporter spending every day delving into a subject that they passionately follow. The latter is how the organization “Free the Slaves” operates. A non profit organization focused on ending all facets of modern slavery, “Free the Slaves” works through donations, volunteer work, and news releases to spread awareness and improve the state of human enslavement across the world. While they aren’t considered a news organization on par with something like the New York Times, they focus a lot of their energy on their blog, which accounts for most of the news pieces they provide.

The extensive staff works on updating their blog frequently to spread awareness of their mission. Many of the reporters, such as Terry Fitzpatrick, are those that spend their time tirelessly working for “Free the Slaves.” His articles focus on how to help, the presidential campaign, and ways to fight human trafficking. Fitzpatrick is just one example of the journalists that work for the “Free the Slaves” blog. He doesn’t work for any large corporation but spends his time following a cause that he feels passionately about and his other colleagues do the same on a daily basis. Because he only focuses on the specific topic of modern slavery, his work is able to delve deeply into the subject matter and be as engaging as it is factual.


Some of the statistics facing modern slavery across the world, from http://www.freetheslaves.net.


The Challenge on Reporting Human Rights

“Journalism, Media, and the Challenge of Human Rights Reporting” outlines the struggles that come with the profession of being a human rights journalist. Investigating the issues that face humanity worldwide will often take a toll on everyone involved, but the importance cannot be overstated. As read on page 113, “the selection and presentation of human rights stories in media coverage influence our perception of the world around us in many ways.” The influence that journalists have in the world of human rights is a responsibility and power that has the possibility of helping countless people across the world. With all that being said, however, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

This article states that some of the problems facing journalists today are “ignorance of what human rights are,” “confusion about where human rights are,” “unawareness of the scope of human rights,” and more. While there is a lot that is going well with human rights journalism, there is still a lot of room for improvement. There are organizations, however, that are attempting to work to improve this situation. Human rights journalism is being focused on now more than ever in an attempt to change the face of human rights reporting for the better.

One of the biggest problems that this article associates with human rights reporting is the general lack of knowledge surrounding the subject. Modern slavery is being reported on but not as much as it could be. There are those out there that are working simply to bring light to the issue and increase the knowledge base of the general population, which is helpful not only to the public, but also to the reporters attempting to cover the topic. While the problem of reporting on human rights still exists, the effort to improve it is growing stronger.


A chart from the World Economic Forum used in the efforts to increase awareness of modern slavery.

Martha Mendoza

Martha Mendoza is an Associated Press National Writer. She has won numerous awards including a Pulitzer Prize for her work in covering and exposing modern slavery around the world. Over the years she has prompted Congressional hearings, Pentagon investigations and White House responses. Her work is something she feels is incredibly important but ethically challenging. At the 2015 Freedom from Slavery Forum at Stanford University, she explained how, “If you show their face, they can be eliminated as evidence.”

The problem with actively investigating and bringing to light the enslavement of people is that it can endanger those she is trying to help. Ethically, it is a difficult decision to decide on the timeliness of a story. If it runs too soon those implicated could be killed, but if the story runs too late some might not care or be able to help the situation. It is a dangerous line to toe and Mendoza, as well the Associated Press, realize that.

Her articles have exposed different kinds labor and enslavement across the country, even leading to the rescue of some that she had written about. Her work spans multiple countries and investigations. Often she has written about labor enslavement and saved many of those that she found in the process. Her work has brought light to issues that otherwise may have remained undetected. Mendoza works largely in Northern California now, focusing heavily on local issues within the area. While still assisting with foreign investigations, she stays local for the most part.


A Journalist’s Actual Responsibility

“To bear witness means being there — and that’s not free. No search engine gives you the smell of a crime, the tremor in the air, the eyes that smolder, or the cadence of a scream.” Roger Cohen describes, all too vividly, his experiences in Iran with gut-wrenching detail. Roger Cohen’s piece on a journalist’s actual responsibility describes what he believes to be the key component of helping people as a reporter. It’s difficult to be in the position that many journalists find themselves in.

Being caught amidst a war stricken country doing your job as a witness reporting back to the rest of the world isn’t an easy task. It’s not one to be taken lightly and the emotional and mental toll reaches farther than one might think. As Cohen says, “A chunk of me is back in Tehran.” It’s tough to detach emotionally from the danger and sorrow that is being witnessed from an objective standpoint. More so than just the emotional drain that can accompany a journalist working in a human rights field, the danger is also very real. 71 different journalists were killed in 2015 alone. A journalist’s role in the world can be a number of different things; a witness, a recorder, a savior. It’s difficult to know how to do the right thing all the time. Intervening in a situation isn’t a journalist’s duty. Their job is to report on the happening they are covering, and if that means letting them happen then that is what the job entails.

Modern Slavery Statistics

Many people tend to think of slavery as an outdated relic of a less progressive time, especially in the United States. What a lot of people don’t recognize is that the issue is still a problem in the world today. Across the globe, 35.8 million people are currently enslaved. Whether they are being forced into labor, prostitution, or trafficking, there are people worldwide that are missing the basic human rights entitled to them as people. Unfortunately, the data behind human trafficking or ‘modern slavery’ is hard to come by as the business is such a hidden crime. A lot of the information comes from survivors that are willing to share their stories.

With the lack of prevalent data, many people assume that the issue is a foreign one and don’t recognize that it’s still a problem in the United States. While there are plenty of other countries that have a more persistent problem, according to the Global Slavery Index, there are currently sixty thousand people enslaved in America. Enslavement is clearly a much more pressing matter in other countries, such as India or Uzbekistan, but the fact remains it is a problem in America as well.

The difference between the United States and the rest of the world isn’t all too surprising. We live in a first world country and have an overall very progressive society. However, that doesn’t stop the fact that there is still slavery in America and it’s a problem that needs a light shined on it sooner rather than later.