Views: To act or to advocate?

May 23, 2012 | 8 a.m.

The role of journalists is to keep telling the story in a variety of ways

Views | Jillian Schmid

Views: To act or to advocate

The cast of "Time Stands Still" talks with playwright Donald Margulies and director Joe Dowling during rehearsals. |Courtesy of Guthrie Theatre, photo by T. Charles Erickson

The subject of human trafficking can be incredibly overwhelming. With over 12.3 million men, women and children being trafficked for commercial sex or forced labor, it can seem like a hopeless cause.

There are journalists who either work to spread awareness about this issue or choose to become active in fighting the injustice; the decision between the two has become a widespread debate throughout the journalism field. Oftentimes, journalists such as Nicholas Kristof write articles exposing the harsh realities that millions of people face every day, in hopes of drawing more attention to the issue and calling more people to join the fight against human trafficking.

In a recent presentation at Bethel University by Christa Hillstrom, online editor of Yes! Magazine, she discussed the different sides of the debate and related them back to her time spent in India. While she was there, she was overwhelmed by the amount of suffering she saw, and it became very difficult for her to try to create a video that would merely scratch the surface of her experience in India. It came to a point where she said she had to admit failure and give up trying to create the video project. It was in that failure, however, that she learned one of her most valuable life lessons and was able to concentrate fully on helping those in need in India.

Actors from the Guthrie theater also came to Bethel to discuss the debate and give a brief look at its relation to their play Time Stands Still. After acting a couple of scenes from the play in which the four characters wrestle with the debate between advocating and joining the cause, the actors had an interactive discussion with students about their stances on the issue. The play presented various arguments for each side in an interesting view that made it easy for the audience to understand where each character was coming from.

One example of the debate that people seem to disagree on, is the matter of the picture taken by award-winning photographer Kevin Carter, who took the infamous photo of a young child starving to death while a vulture waits for its prey in the background. Carter came under tremendous criticism for failing to help the famished girl and was told by a reporter in the St. Petersburg Times that he might just as well be a predator or “another vulture on the scene.”

People will continue to debate about whether or not advocating should be a priority or actively involving yourself in the cause should be—but the fact of the matter is that the world needs an equal balance of the two. Humans can only handle so much suffering and if we only focused on one side of the issue, it would not work as well. There needs to be people willing to go out and report on the complex struggles that people face worldwide, while also having those who are willing to work hard to put an end to injustices such as human trafficking.

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