- If you had the opportunity to interview Nicholas Kristof, what would you want to ask him?
- The Handbook for Citizen Journalists defines advocacy journalism as “a genre of journalism that adopts a viewpoint for the sake of advocating on behalf of a social, political, business, or religious purpose. It is journalism with an intentional and transparent bias.”1 Based on this definition, what is the difference, if anything, between advocacy journalism and propaganda?
- What does the phrase “objective reporting” mean to you? Communications professor Richard Taflinger argues that that objectivity is “an unrealizable dream.” Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
Brooke Gladstone refers to Kristof as an “advocacy journalist.” Where, if at all, do you see examples of advocacy in the editorial “A Student, a Teacher and a Glimpse of War”? What is Kristof advocating? In her article “Does 'Caring' Require Advocacy in Journalism?,” journalist Elecia Chrunik provides some warnings to writers and readers regarding advocacy journalism:
There can be negative consequences to advocacy journalism, like any form of journalism, when it is not done responsibly. . . . Becoming involved with a cause blurs the lines of a journalist’s duties and responsibilities. The public might have a difficult time accepting and trusting that journalists are both promoters and truth-tellers. And there are many ways that a journalist can abuse his or her power if he or she feels that the ends justify the means.2
What arguments does Chrunik make about advocacy journalism? How might Kristof respond to these arguments?
Nicholas Kristof is a columnist; his job is to write opinion pieces that appear on the editorial page. Does this role give him permission to use his articles to advocate for certain policies and behaviors? Why or why not? Why do you think newspapers include opinion pages? What do you think qualifies someone to express an opinion in a newspaper?
Kristof said, “We flinch at the idea of marketing a cause. . .[b]ut it could matter tremendously if we could get people to care about, say, malaria.”3 What is the difference, if any, between marketing aimed at consumer goods, such as soda or shampoo, and marketing aimed at getting people to care about social issues? What strategies do advertisers use to make products attractive to buyers? Which of these techniques, if any, are appropriate for activists to use to promote a social or political issue?
To find “an individual whose story, in essence, will inspire the most outrage in his readers over breakfast,” Reporter filmmaker Eric Metzgar says that Kristof often talks to 50 to 100 people a day. Here is how Metzgar describes finding Yohanita, the subject of the editorial “A Student, a Teacher and a Glimpse of War”:
When we found her, Nick had sort of found his Rokia. . . . This is the woman who is going to represent the crisis in Congo. Because he had disregarded a few hundred people's terrible stories and he really found the one that, even to the crew and everyone around, crushed us the most, devastated us the most. But also, the way that. . . Nick told it in his column, it really inspired you the most. And it told the story politically of what was happening in the area. That's important, too.
How did the story of Yohanita impact you? What feelings and ideas did it spark for you? What does the story of Yohanita reveal about conditions in Congo? About three weeks after the New York Times published “A Student, a Teacher and a Glimpse of War,” Yohanita died from an infection she had when she was brought to the hospital. How does your response to this column change, if at all, knowing that Yohanita did not survive?
- "What is the greater goal of journalism?” Filmmaker Eric Metzgar asked this question when traveling in Congo with Kristof to produce the Reporter documentary. In an interview about his experience making this film, Metzgar describes the tension between writing about suffering and intervening to end the suffering:
Journalism exists because everyone can't be there to witness it. Right? So we've designated these few people [about whom] we say, "They're not going to help out. They're not going to intervene. They're simply going to watch and tell people who don't know about it." And that's a strange reality when you're there. To wake up and read the newspaper or read it online is one thing. But when you're there, the idea that you should simply document the story is very strange.4
Metzgar says that Kristof probably would not have intervened to get Yohanita to the hospital if Leana Wen, the medical student, had not been on the trip with him. What do you think about Kristof’s decision to intervene in this instance? Is this part of his job as a reporter? Is it part of his responsibility as a human being? How do you think journalists should respond to human suffering before their eyes when they are reporting?
- 1 : Jack Driscoll, Handbook for Citizen Journalists: Catching the Journalistic Attitude, May 11, 2010.
- 2 : Elecia Chrunik, “Does ‘Caring’ Require Advocacy in Journalism.”
- 3 : Stig Arlid Pettersen, “Nic Kristof: Balancing the Fine Line Between Journalism and Accuracy.”
- 4 : “Transcript: Caring About Congo," NOW on PBS, February 12, 2010.