The Future of Journalism: An Open Letter to CNN

Dear CNN,

I’m writing to share my concerns about the anti-journalism rhetoric that Trump and his Republican peers have been spreading in recent months. As a journalism student, I’ve been gritting my teeth at the very sight of Trump, who I refuse to call my president, writing every news media outlet off as “fake news” and an “enemy of the American people” and turning journalists away every chance they get at asking him questions about whether or not the Russians helped him cheat his way to the White House; the police arresting West Virginia reporter Dan Heyman for “willful disruption of state government processes” after asking Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price about the GOP healthcare bill;  and more recently, then Republican candidate for Congress Greg Gianforte body-slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs for inquiring about the aforementioned bill the night before Montana’s congressional election.

Journalists work very hard to write and report the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the events they have witnessed to the public, and make sure that everything they report is accurate and fair. “Fake news” is considered “fabrication” in the eyes of every news organization in the country, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, who had to punish their fair share of fabricators and plagiarists (Jayson Blair played both roles during his tenure at the former company). Trump, on the other hand, considers “fake news” to be your reports about alleged communications between him and our communist neighbor overseas during his campaign, and he’s gone to great lengths to criminalize every reporter for their attempts at getting to the bottom of the greatest political scandal since Watergate, therefore unraveling the very tenet of our democracy as we know it.

Freedom of speech and the press is not only a constitutional right, but also a basic, inalienable, universal human right. It’s already a travesty that journalists in countries that limit or restrict the press are facing prison time or even death for reporting the atrocities of their governments to the public. It’s even more tragic that the very government that guaranteed our rights to free speech, expression, and press over 240 years ago is threatening to silence us for reporting his fraudulent practices inside the Oval Office and beyond simply because they believe that everything you’re reporting is a lie when, in reality, you’re reporting the truth.

I always told my family that I would never travel to a communist country since such countries are notorious for restricting freedom of speech and the press. Now I fear that the United States is turning into one in light of these attacks against journalists. It breaks my heart to hear that once I graduate from college and enter the news media industry, instead of receiving high praise from people for reporting on issues that matter most to them and myself, I will be met with bodily injury and/or even death by fear-mongering politicians and their supporters.

I commend your courage for continuing to hold Trump accountable for his gross misconduct during his six months in office. Your bravery in the face of political adversity gives me hope that someday I’ll be able to perform my job without the risk of cruel and unusual punishment from any government official. I can’t imagine myself living in a country where journalism is no longer a job opportunity for people who want to enter that field, so thank you for all you’re doing to keep that dream and freedom alive. I didn’t want to study journalism before I set foot in college, but now I don’t want to change that path for anything or anyone, especially the man who doesn’t deserve to stay in the White House. I refuse to let Trump make me feel as if everything I’m working for is at risk.
Sincerely,

Cristina Alexander

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On Freedom of Speech: A Response to an Egyptian Author’s Arrest

When E.L. James released the provocative BDSM novel Fifty Shades of Grey in 2012, the British government didn’t slap her with a long-term prison sentence for writing “sexually explicit” material, nor did they stop it from selling millions of copies worldwide. Four years later, Ahmed Naji has been sentenced to two years in prison by the Egyptian government for producing the same content in his novel Using Life, an excerpt of which was published in a magazine. The prosecutors believed that Ahmed’s writings violated public modesty, saying that a man experienced heart palpitations, an illness of some form, and plummeting blood pressure after reading an excerpt of the book.

I normally don’t write about things like this due to the sexual content involved, but because I am a proponent of universal free speech, I’m making Naji’s case an exception.

The United Nations stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that every human being “shall enjoy freedom of speech.” Unfortunately, there are courts in some countries, like Egypt, that are depriving their citizens of that basic human right in the name of modesty, and those who dare to write and/or create products they deem to have intellectual and substantial value are facing prosecution for exercising that right. Ahmed Naji is one of those creative people. I don’t agree with the fact that he threw some steamy sex scenes in his book–then again, I haven’t read Using Life because it hasn’t been shipped to the U.S.–but according to Article 19 of Egypt’s constitution, Naji does have the right to express his views in that manner as long as he exercises some responsibility. The least he could’ve done was have his publisher place disclaimers before the first page or on the back of the book that warn readers that certain material contained therein–i.e. obscenities–may not be suitable for some, especially children and those with weak constitutions. But the Egyptian court decided to call Naji’s novel a legal offense to morality regardless; therefore they are violating the right to free speech granted by their own constitution.

You don’t have to like certain material that people write, paint or sing, but don’t imprison writers and artists for providing such content in their creations. I don’t read Fifty Shades of Grey because of the explicit content and a lack of substance, yet other people have been reading the trilogy. Yes, I’m discontent with the existence of the series, but I don’t call the author nor her readers out on it legally, especially the author. If James wants to continue writing steamy novels for her fans across the pond and beyond, I won’t judge her because she is within her rights to produce such content as long as she’s conscious about the impact her work might leave on the world. Fifty Shades of Grey surely left a mark on the pop culture industry, as it was adapted into a feature film, with two more films–or three, if Fifty Shades Freed will be released in two parts–in production. I detested Family Guy for the exact same reason when I was younger despite the TV-14 rating, so I shielded my eyes from it as much as possible. It was only during my high school years did I slowly understand the reason behind the show’s popularity: Just as with The Simpsons, the producers of Family Guy, especially series creator Seth MacFarlane, offer their satirical view of every aspect of society as we know it by way of cutaway gags, from pop culture to politics to religion to the education system. Did I call the producers out on some of the mature content they placed in the show? No. But some conservative groups, including the infamous Parents Television Council (PTC) have written to Fox, imploring the network to cancel the series since the very first episode aired in 1999 despite the fact that they place a “VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISORY” disclaimer at the beginning of each episode. Family Guy initially got cancelled in 2003 due to low ratings, but a boost in DVD sales and rerun viewings on Adult Swim prompted the production and airing of new episodes, thus proving an animated show of its kind is too popular to be silenced by the demands of über conservatism.

Sure, Fifty Shades and Family Guy had their controversial moments, but at least nobody directly involved in these creative endeavors got arrested for “destroying social values.” Why should both Ahmed Naji and his novel be any different?

Never Judge a Person By Their Shirt

Never Judge a Person By Their Shirt

Until very recently, I never had any problems with someone giving me harsh judgment for wearing a T-shirt embedded with one of my favorite cartoon/video game characters (except maybe in 6th Grade, but that’s another story). Precisely one month ago, I was going to my World Geography class wearing a pink Classic Sonic shirt and denim jean shorts–it was already too hot for me to wear pants of any sort in South Florida. My stepdad looked at my attire for the day and said that I looked like I was going to kindergarten instead of a college class. I couldn’t tell whether he was telling the truth or joking about it, but I didn’t give a shit regardless. The next day was worse. I planned on going to another campus wearing my Black Butler tank top, black shorts, and Ed Hardy converse shoes. Cute, right? Not to my stepdad, who still had the audacity to tell me that what I was wearing was “not age-appropriate for college,” even though the Black Butler shirt was women’s medium and I bought it from Hot Topic. I cried almost the entire time I was in my Western Civilization class, barely writing down the notes about Ancient Rome that my professor wrote on the whiteboard as he was lecturing. I asked my classmates and the professor if they deem me immature for wearing such attire–they said no.

Yesterday, I told my mother that my bathing suit–a two piece that’s designed to look like Ciel Phantomhive’s green outfit–was ready for pickup at Hot Topic. My older brother asked me what kind of bathing suit it was, and when I told him “Black Butler” he groaned. To make matters even worse, my mom said that someone asked her how old I was the day before simply because I was wearing a red Hello Kitty shirt (which I bought from the juniors department at Wal-Mart, by the way). I got extremely pissed off at hearing that someone thought I was 12, not 21. I was even more enraged when my own mother and brother mocked me for wearing clothes that featured my favorite video games and cartoons/anime.

So I beg the question: Why the hell is my family judging me for wearing clothes based on my interests in video games and cartoons/anime? It may have a lot to do with how society views people in the gaming community: man-children who would rather spend every waking hour of every day playing video games and watching cartoons/anime in lieu of attending school and/or holding down a job. I find this to be an extremely vicious stereotype, and I can’t believe that this is coming from some family members who claim that my teachers will downgrade me for exhibiting my interests in such popular forms of entertainment despite the fact that I take my schoolwork very seriously and that people will take advantage of me for doing so–both of which I never had to deal with.

I firmly believe in the basic human right to freedom of speech and expression, and if I want to wear my Classic Sonic shirt, my Black Butler tank top, or a My Little Pony T-shirt, that is my right. I shouldn’t let anyone tell me otherwise.