Leif Coorlim, executive editor of the CNN Freedom Project, spoke about his experiences reporting on human trafficking across the globe Wednesday night in Harris Hall. About 50 people attended the event hosted by the Fight for Freedom Project, an organization that aims to spread the world about modern slavery.
CNN launched the Freedom Project in 2011 to fight human trafficking and feature others who work to free modern-day slaves. Since CNN began covering this issue, laws and corporate policies have changed, humanitarian organizations have been created and people have become more aware of the issue. According to Coorlim, this was the first time CNN had ever publicly taken a position on a current events issue.
Coorlim talked about interviewing young sex workers and going undercover into brothels with hidden cameras.
“Right away you could see the girls were teenagers, and a couple of them were very young teenagers,” Coorlim said.
Coorlim also discussed his moral qualms about living so comfortably while witnessing the abject poverty of countries like Haiti, where people were still living in tents more than two years after the earthquake.
“Our company policy dictates that if … you take international flights of over three hours, you have to fly business class,” he said. “I’ve had a real problem with flying business class to some of these countries and telling the story, then going to a nice hotel, coming back out the next day and going to a refugee camp. So I really try not to have any sort of luxury while I’m on these trips, because … it messes with your mind too much.”
Yu Sun Chin, Medill junior and Events Coordinator for Fight for Freedom Project since 2011, said CNN’s in-depth stories and documentaries have increased awareness and paved the way for policy changes.
“I think it’s really amazing that such a renowned and prestigious journalism outlet like CNN took on this topic, because it’s so underreported,” she said. “It’s really inspiring for someone like Leif Coorlim to come and to see that a professional like him is affecting real change in this field, even thought the issue seems really overwhelming.”
Medill senior Eric Feldman also admires the impact these stories have had.
“I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do after I graduate in June,” he said. “I know I want to be in television, I want to tell important stories, and hearing Mr. Coorlim talk – it kind of reaffirms that there are important stories to tell still, and that there are media and networks that care about those important stories … That’s so reassuring to hear as a senior, to know that there are ways that we can tell the stories that matter instead of the stories that are going to get the most hits.”