Author Azar Nafisi discusses the roles of literature and imagination in both repressive states and democracies.
In the documentary Reporter, we follow New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof as he works to get his readers to “care about what happens on the other side of the hill.” We see how he uses social science research and the tools of journalism to try to expand his readers’ universe of responsibility—the people whom they feel obligated to care for and protect. We watch him struggle with dilemmas: How can he inform people about the larger context of genocide and other humanitarian disasters without numbing his readers’ sense of compassion? As a print journalist, how can he adapt to the changing landscape of web-based media? What is the relationship between journalism and advocacy?
In the spring of 2007, Leana Wen, a medical student, applied to win a trip to central Africa with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. In her winning essay, she writes, “I want to fight these injustices and change the world.” She believes that traveling with Kristof will give her some tools to do this. Wen’s desire to fight injustice comes from personal experience. Learn more in her own words:
According to the International Association of Genocide Scholars, in the twentieth century more people have died from genocide and mass murder than from all wars. After each atrocity, men and women in the international community cry “Never again,” but human rights abuses against innocent children, women, and men continue. In his job as a reporter for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof has been able to see these human rights abuses firsthand, winning a Pulitzer Prize for bringing attention to the genocide in Darfur. Yet despite the attention Kristof and others have drawn to this humanitarian disaster, the violence continues. Why is this the case?
Looking to history can help us address this question. In the 1940s, Jan Karski, a courier for the Polish resistance, publicized reports about Nazi atrocities to a mostly unbelieving audience. After the war, he spoke of his attempts to alert people to the mass murder of European Jews, explaining, “The tragedy was that these testimonies were not believed. Not because of ill will, but simply because the facts were beyond human imagination.”2During the Holocaust, many people did not intervene to stop the genocide because they were not able to “imagine the unimaginable.” As Professor Larry Langer argues, “Even with the evidence before our eyes, we hesitate to accept the worst.”
According to journalist Elecia Chrunik, “The outcome of a [news] story is based on a myriad of decisions, and a journalist, good intentions or not, has to face thousands of decisions with every story.”1 Which details should be included?