Listening for Better Journalism

Muse Storytelling has cleverly mapped out how journalists can uncover the stories that are truly valuable to our audiences. These are the stories that go far beyond the obvious and you discover them by listening. Muse reveals how to do this by following a process that lets “the story move you, before you move the story.”

To be moved, Muse suggests spending time understanding your community and to “immerse yourself in the world in which the story exists.” So over the last twelve weeks I have interviewed a range of people including researchers, advocates, attorneys, survivors, policymakers, government initiative leaders, social workers and service providers to better understand the issues underlying domestic sex trafficking.

Another tip offered by Muse is to “get into the field.” Today I attended Human Trafficking Intervention Court (HTIC) at the Queens Court house. Judge Toko Serita presides and the first thing I noticed was how kind she was to the defendants. “What a cheerful color you are wearing. It makes me smile” Judge Serita said to a woman wearing a bright yellow trench coat. “We could use some cheer in this windowless courtroom.”

The purpose of this court is not to resolve human trafficking, but to prevent the women arrested for prostitution related crimes from being treated like criminals and connecting them to services such as counseling. If defendants attend court mandated programs and are not arrested again for six months, their cases will be dismissed. It’s a difficult and controversial path, but these court cases can be the victim’s link to rehabilitation and renewal.

In a New York Times article, Judge Serita acknowledges “the trafficking court is a Catch-22: For people to feel less like criminals, they must first go through the criminal justice system.” This is one of the major areas of contention among the people I’ve interviewed — should the commercial sex industry be policed at all? When journalists are dealing with polarizing issues, Muse reminds us to “remove your assumptions, expectations and paradigms.” While I might have a viewpoint, to find the story worth telling it’s necessary to suspend it otherwise I might miss a higher truth that listening to other perspectives can reveal.

Addressing human trafficking is endlessly complex. However, I’m trusting the process of listening, research and immersion in my community to lead to inspiration and the emergence of a path for journalism to play a role in anti-trafficking.