Schuster, PBS, WGBH reporting on slavery

Joint efforts commemorate the past, recognize the millions currently enslaved

Photo/Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism

Although President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery 150 years ago, reporting by the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism and others provides examples of how slavery persists today.

As part of its Human Trafficking & Modern-Day Slavery Project, the institute has joined WGBH Boston Public Radio and PBS’s American Experience in examining slavery in history and the present day.

The three organizations are jointly commemorating past efforts to eradicate slavery while also recognizing that more than 20 million people are enslaved today, according to the International Labor Organization. In particular, the Schuster Institute is highlighting the crucial role journalists have played in informing the public about slavery in both 19th century America and the 21st century global economy.

The collaboration includes three projects: WGBH Boston Public Radio’s “Underground Trade: From Boston to Bangkok,” an eight-part broadcast, in which Schuster Institute senior fellow and WGBH senior reporter Phillip Martin will trace human trafficking routes from East Asia to the American Northeast; PBS’s “The Abolitionists,” chronicling five abolitionists and their efforts to turn a "despised fringe movement against chattel slavery into a force that literally changed the nation;" and the Schuster Institute’s “Investigating Slavery Now and Then,” a companion website that features the institute's reporting and resources on modern-day slavery, and emphasizes the role that past and contemporary journalists have played in exposing this issue. The WGBH series began Jan 8 and is running Tuesdays and Thursdays through the end of January. 

The Schuster Institute’s project includes essays by journalists and authors who have documented anti-slavery movements of the past and present, reporting on slavery today across the globe -- including previous Schuster Institute cross-border investigations -- and additional resources to contextualize the WGBH and PBS series.

“Most people today do not realize that slavery still exists. They believe that it ended with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and that it can be relegated to the past," says Florence Graves, founding director of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. "Just as journalists were crucial in inciting public conversation about slavery in the 19th century, they now play an important role in uncovering and widely exposing the fact that slavery exists today.

"Unless journalists shine a light on this issue," Graves says, "the public and policymakers will remain ignorant about slavery's presence in our global economy and how close we may be to slavery — from living down the street from a massage parlors serving as fronts for a human trafficking ring, to eating food harvested or wearing clothes sewn by slaves.”
The institute’s section on “The Role of Journalists in Exposing Slavery” features authors Adam Hochschild and Brooke Kroeger, who make the case for human rights journalism and undercover reporting in exposing slavery.  Kroeger, a Schuster Institute Senior Fellow and New York University journalism professor, is the author of "Undercover Reporting: The Truth About Deception." She brings together a unique database of groundbreaking journalism by undercover reporters totaling more than 2,000 published pieces and including the work of journalists who have exposed slavery from the 1840s to the present, from Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune to NBC’s Dateline.

The institute's ongoing Modern-day Slavery and Human Trafficking Reporting Project is devoted to exposing instances of modern-day slavery throughout the world—and connecting Western audiences to this often hidden crime. Schuster Institute journalists have reported on slavery in the New Zealand fishing industry and how slave-caught seafood enters American grocery stores and restaurants, sex trafficking rings in Boston and the Northeast, and the U.S. State Department’s successes and limitations in fighting slavery worldwide, among other topics. The project was launched in 2010 with a grant from founding benefactors Elaine and Gerald Schuster.

Brandeis undergraduate research assistants were integral to these investigations, providing support for “Investigating Slavery Now & Then” as well as conducting research for Martin’s research for the WGBH series.

“It is so important to have students learn firsthand how to investigate a complex story—and how much attention to detail and determined pursuit of information goes into a project like this,” says Sophie Elsner, research editor at the Schuster Institute, who supervises the student workers. “Many students have told me that before working at the Schuster Institute, they had no idea that human trafficking existed, and now they have a deep understanding of this issue.”

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, Research

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage