Nicholas Donabet Kristof is an American journalist, author, op-ed columnist, and a winner of two Pulitzer Prizes. He has written an op-ed column for The New York Times since November 2001 and The Washington Post says that he "rewrote opinion journalism" with his emphasis on human rights abuses and social injustices, such as human trafficking and the Darfur conflict. Although Kristof has sometimes been criticized for highlighting human rights abuses in Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa has described Kristof as an "honorary African" for shining a spotlight on neglected conflicts.
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Hi redditors. I'm Nicholas Kristof. I'm a New York Times columnist and co-author with my wife Sheryl WuDunn of the book A Path Appears, which was released Tuesday and will be a documentary that airs on PBS next January. A Path Appears is about how to make a difference -- and also, how in helping others, we invariably end up helping ourselves.
I will start the AMA at 3pm ET. I'm excited to answer your questions about A Path Appears and anything else!
Edit: Thanks so much for sending in so many great questions. If you didn't get a chance to ask a question, find me on Facebook, Twitter or Google+, or come out to one of the places I'll be visiting on the A Path Appears book tour: http://apathappears.org/tour-dates/
Has there been anything that you've written about (or wanted to write about) in your NY Times column, but you wouldn't be able publish it? What was the topic?
I write about lots of politically sensitive issues, and I've never had a column killed or censored. But of course I have been saved by an editor periodically when saying silly things, and asked: Do you really mean to say that?!
Many of your critics (generally to your left) accuse you of White Savior Syndrome, putting yourself at the center of a story. Are you conscious of this possibility when you write? How do you try and avoid coming off that way?
I came to columnizing from reporting, where it's instinctive to stay on the sidelines, so initially I was hesitant to include myself in my columns. But I gradually realized that columns are much more engaging to an audience when they are stories, including--sometimes--stories about me. So I look for all kinds of ways to engage readers on difficult issues, and throwing myself into the story is one way. For example, when I purchased two girls from a Cambodian brothel in 2004, that was criticized in some circles but was enormously effective in raising the profile of trafficking issues. So there's a trade-off there. I'm sure I don't always get the balance right, but my aim is to wake people up using every tool I have.
Hi, Mr. Kristof, love your new book and thanks for shining a spotlight on untreated clubfoot in developing countries. I work with miraclefeet, one of the largest non-profits focused entirely on this issue.
On your recent NPR interview you said “Too often, we think of making a difference as solving a problem, and it's not quite the same thing” and you gave the example of a little girl in Niger who was able to get treatment for her clubfoot thanks to a $250 donation. You mentioned that contribution is not going to solve the global problem of untreated clubfoot, but for that little girls it’s utterly transformative.
What are you thoughts on that by treating clubfoot, we are also reducing poverty and increasing earning potential in some of the poorest countries in the world?
Thanks for the work you do on this issue! Sheryl and I wrote about clubfoot because we wanted to remind people that despite all the problems with aid, there are some ways to help that are just transformational. That girl, Rashida, whom we write about will now be able to go to school, hold a job, contribute to her society--all because of a $250 donation from a Californian woman. When we were writing that chapter, I learned for the first time that my own mom had had clubfoot. In America, she got treated as a baby and it never held her back. It's heartbreaking that there are still so many kids who never get a chance because of a problem that can be so easily corrected.
Hey Nick, thanks for doing this AMA,
English is not my primary language so I apologize for the spelling and grammar mistakes (Hi from Chile!)
My question is regarding traveling the world. I've seen in your tweets and instagram feeds a lot of pictures of your younger self in remote and exiting places, places like the middle east or Asia (even south and central america) where it would be very dangerous for a kid these day to travel to.
My question is whether you think this is true, i.e the world has gotten progressively more dangerous to explore, and if it is, how so?
Do you remember any particular trip that you wouldn't be able to do in the present? (as a broke student, not a famous reporter that is)
Do you think that might change in the future?
And last question, like I haven't asked enough!, what place would you 100%-must-go, think I should try to visit in my lifetime?
Love your work!
best regards fom Chile,
Hey, Julán, your English is great! Some places have definitely gotten more dangerous. It used to be as a student traveler that I worried about being robbed, but now I worry about being kidnapped. Partly that's because criminals or terrorists can monetize foreigners by holding them for ransom.
As a university student, I smuggled myself (by riding on top of a bus) into Pakistan's tribal areas. I sure wouldn't try that today.
As for places I'd still like to go, I'm embarrassed that I've never been to Chile. So that and Paraguay are on my list, also Bhutan and Papua New Guinea. And Angola is the only country on the continent of Africa I haven't been to, so if you know someone who will give me an Angola visa--tell me!
Hi Nick, Where do you think Millennials will get the majority of their news in 5 years?
If you're a millennial, you tell me!
My worry is that readers in general are developing a more promiscuous relationship with news sources. Traditionally, I had NY Times readers who would read the whole paper. Now there are lots of readers who will read a few articles in the Times, a couple on Huff Post, a BuzzFeed listicle, a CNN video etc. That's one reason I play around so much with social media, to keep those promiscuous readers in an ongoing relationship with me.
Hello Mr. Kristof, I admire your brand of peace journalism. If I may ask, what were you doing at the age of 24? Did you have a plan, were you ambitious? Who were your influences?
At 24, I was finishing up studying law at Oxford and trying to decide whether to become a law professor or a journalist. There was a crucial week in which I had to decide whether to go on for more legal studies at Harvard Law School (the law prof route) or to Cairo to study Arabic (with the idea of becoming a foreign correspondent). If I'd chosen the former, my bank account might be bigger. But I'm so happy I chose the latter!
What help have you given that ended up coming back to help yourself the most?
What's your most inspirational example to get others to get out and start helping?
Maybe my favorite story is that of Olly Neal and the librarian who helps him. But you'll have to read A Path Appears to hear it. :)
I am constantly impressed by the articles you write about gender-based violence and other human rights violations taking place around the world. I was just wondering what case was emotionally the hardest for you to write about?
Over time, I've managed to numb myself to a good deal. But I'm always most terrified when I put others at risk. Once in Darfur, I was stopped at a checkpoint and detained, and I was afraid my 19-year-old interpreter was going to be shot. We were detained in a little hut with a mural on the wall of someone being impaled, which didn't help our spirits. The authorities were willing to let me go but not my interpreter. Eventually, a commander was summoned and let us all go. And then because our vehicle had become stuck in the sand, our guards had to push our vehicle free.
As someone who's been in the journalism field for the duration of the social media and technological rebirth, would you say that the industry has found its footing online now? Or is there still work to do to keep the power of the media alive? More specifically, are these 'big box store piling in everything' competitions to break news instantaneously rather than have time for quality reporting hurting the industry or giving those typically unaware more platforms to become aware of the medias role?
Thanks and look forward to your future work and your upcoming documentary.
No, we haven't found our footing yet. Especially for local newspapers, there's still a basic question about what the business model will be, and how we will pay for investigations or coverage of state/city governments. More broadly, I think those of us in the mainstream media have made lots of progress toward a digital future--but not nearly enough. We dropped the ball and were late in embracing blogging, reader generated content, social media, video, social networks etc. And, um, reddit! We're getting better but still have a long way to go--and we have to be more willing to take risks.
How did you feel about Emma Watson's speech at the U.N. and what advice would you offer males to help improve the lives of women and children around the globe?
Look--to speak up for gender equality is not to denigrate men. I salute Emma Watson, and the threats against her are appalling. Indeed, men as much as women have a stake in a world where all have access to greater opportunity. We are not prisoners of our chromosomes, and we have mothers, wives, daughters, sisters. One of the reasons why I've written about women's rights is that if it's only women advocating on the topic, it's marginalized. Unfair, but true. So men have to speak up too. And civil rights weren't just an issue for blacks, the Holocaust wasn't a problem only for Jews, and when women are mistreated that's not a "women's issue" but a human rights issue that all of us should work to rectify whatever our chromosomal makeup.
When I student taught last year, my guiding teacher loved to use your articles as Current Events for our World History class. The students loved the Boko Haram articles you wrote, and it actually inspired them to raise money for Camfed!
Anyways, here's my question: what is your meaning of life and how did you come to that meaning?
In reporting our new book A Path Appears, it struck me how much evidence there is that we evolved to be social creatures, and that when we support others the oxytocin flows and we feel better. So I think the meaning of life has to do with less finger pointing and more hand-holding.
Mr. Kristof, Marie Claire magazine investigated the allegations against Somaly Mam and found some serious holes in the allegations. Given your coverage of her—the columns, book and film—what do you think of the fact that the allegations now are coming apart? And did you consider going to Cambodia yourself to investigate the allegations?
Newsweek this spring reported that there were major inconsistencies in Somaly Mam's back story, and as you say Marie Claire has now argued that it was Newsweek that made mistakes. Look, I've talked to lots of people on all sides of this, and I just don't know where the truth lies. I do wish that we in the news media would be more aggressive in covering the background problem--the trafficking of women and children all over the world, including in the US.
Hi Nicholas - I love your columns! Unfortunately, I never heard about your "Win a Trip With Nick Kristof" contest until after I graduated from college. Do you have any fun, meaningful, or wacky stories from any of the trips?
Sorry you missed the win-a-trip journey. They're another way in which I've tried to find a way to connect an American audience to some tough global issues, and we've had some fantastic journeys. On one trip, I wanted to write about how security is paramount to development--when warlords are running around, people can't plant crops, they can't go to school, and kids die. The student and I reported on this from Central African Republic, and the reporting was particularly rich--because we got held up twice at gunpoint.
Hi Nick, follow you on Twitter and really enjoy your work. I help run a podcast over at debtfreemuslims.com and we'd love to have you on as a guest to do a 30 minute interview to talk about your book. What would be the best way to reach you to arrange a time?
why don't you reach out to our book publicist, Jess Purcell, JPurcell@Randomhouse.com. Our book schedule is wild and we're way overcommitted, though!
Hi Mr. Kristof, I just started reading A Path Appears. What has been the greatest challenge in working in areas where there is so much oppression, especially towards women, i.e. getting women to speak, getting local involvement, dealing with negative responses to you being there, etc?
Secondly what do you say to critics of Half the Sky who say you present yourself as a rescuer, bringing along celebrities to show how awful the world is and what you can do to save it?
There are obviously risks in reporting in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen, and interviewing women can be difficult--not so much because they won't speak, but because their fathers/brothers/husbands want to speak for them. But the biggest problem by far is getting American readers interested. Whenever I write about global human rights issues, my audience dwindles. That's why I use celebrities, win-a-trip, videos, social media and any trick I can think of to try to engage readers in issues that I think are immensely important but that don't have a natural constituency. I figure that if the public and media are going to pay attention to George Clooney or other celebrities, some of that interest may as well also illuminate those who need the attention far more.
Hello Mr. Kristof,
Thank you for your valuable work in the developing world. What are your thoughts on the process of aid (mostly food) sent to developing countries when considering local farmers and their local markets?
The food aid system is a disaster. It's basically a system to subsidize American farmers and American shipowners, since most food aid has to be American grown and American shipped. Then the food arrives in Africa and depresses local food prices, hurting farmers and reducing the incentive to plant in the next season. CARE led the way in refusing to accept such aid, but it lost lots of funding as a result; it deserves lots of credit for its courageous decision.
Hi Nicholas, I'm so excited to see this AMA- I've loved your column for years- both for illuminating issues and your description of faraway places- and am very much looking forward to reading your new book! (I also get jealous of your Win a Trip students each year but travel enough that I don't think I'm the sort you want applying, alas.)
So just wondering, as a journalist who has traveled all around the globe, what situation is the most dangerous you've found yourself in? And what experience while traveling struck you as the most unforgettable? (Hard question I know, but you can just say the first thing that came to your mind.)
In 1997 I flew in with some reporters on a chartered plane into Congo to cover the civil war and refugee crisis there. The plane crashed (one person on the ground was killed, but those of us in the plane were all ok). After that, I decided to drive out. I ran into a warlord who was using child soldiers to slaughter Hutus, and he didn't appreciate my reporting--so he sent a truckload of soldiers chasing after me through the jungle for the next five days or so. And in the course of that I caught the most lethal form of malaria. Let's just say that after that plane crash, chase, and hospitalization, I was ready to embark on a new career covering Caribbean beaches.
Greetings, Mr. Kristof!
Thank you for all the work you do to enable voiceless people to be heard.
In 'A Path Appears' you offer a fair assessment of international development. You also suggest ways that it can be - and is being - improved (i.e. more evidence-based approaches; more locally-led initiatives).
How do you think the development 'industry' will change in the medium-term? What will the 'future' of development look like?
With gratitude and respect,
I'm glad you like "A Path Appears"--and you're a fast reader! I think the development industry will change with more focus on evidence and randomized trials, and probably more business practices including solid metrics and evaluation. In general I also think that the development world is getting better at listening to local people rather than just giving orders. I hope that we'll also figure out better mechanisms to cut out some of the huge aid contractors that consume so much of the aid dollar, simply so that aid can have more impact at the grassroots.