To be a journalist or a human rights advocate?
That is the great question, for me at least. I have been struggling with this decision probably half way through my first year at the Cronkite School. The reason I went into journalism was to report on important stories and highlight voices that the world needs to know about.
I should have known that the stories I want to write about are also the stories I want to be a part of shaping. Very dangerous and risky move to have desires and intentions other than just gathering the facts and turning in a story. Perhaps I should have seen the conflict back in high school as an editor of the school paper and having to be interviewed for a story on an event for the non-profit Invisible Children Club, a club I was the founder and president of.
I thought that by reporting truth and courageously covering global news and diverse communities that I could make a difference in the world. I should have known that this was a lofty goal, that my duty as a journalist is not to help people and change the world, but to inform the public.
Journalists are stripped of allegiance, sympathy, affiliation or agenda. Sure, their reports can spark public debate and policy, but that’s not the point. It’s not the mission of a journalist to analyze a crisis and propose a course of action. That would be a human rights observer.
You could say I am the epitome of a conflicted voice.
However, after reading this article by Carroll Bogert, I’m not so disappointed in my torn feelings of being an advocate or reporter.
Reports by the Human Rights Watch are respected and considered to be full of quality, factual information that is used by news organizations around the world like the New York Times. And when most papers and stations are reducing the number of foreign correspondents, researchers at human rights organizations are some of the last people who care about reporting on crisis situations and human rights abuses in all the corners of the world.
The downside of working at human rights organizations is not having the neutral, objective reputation that journalists have (or are supposed to have, mind you.) That’s something that sincerely bothers me, because I would like to think that I am making my decisions and writing based on facts, not bias or propaganda or self-interest.
I would like my work to be judged with a respectful mind, because stories that are branded as lies will not have any impact or positive change. The story will be lost in continued debate, ignorance and apathy about just another complicated issue that everyone needs to learn more about and make more of an effort to understand.
I’m happy that Bogert said that foreign correspondents do important work that help human rights organizers because their stories get wider coverage. But the skills that journalists have are still put to good use at Human Rights Watch putting together multimedia packages, reports and research–all things that I am learning and will hopefully learn how to do successively with my journalism education. My knowledge of human rights I hope to amass through my minor in Global Studies and possibly certificates in human rights, international studies or Arabic studies. (I know I am way in over my head, but I love this stuff!)
So even if the mainstream media fails to maintain a decent coverage of global news, we are lucky to have organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam that can pick up the slack. My dream is to intern and eventually contribute to their vital work keeping us informed, aware and caring about the suffering and sacrifice corrupt governments and individuals don’t want us to know about.