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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

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Transforming Journalism by Moving and Mobilizing Readers

by Krista Tippett, host

Near El Fahser in North DarfurTwo girls walk through the market in the Abushouk Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, home to nearly 55,000 people, near the North Darfur capital El Fasher. (photo: Ian Timberlake/AFP/Getty Images)

I wasn’t always a fan of Nicholas Kristof’s columns in The New York Times. I’d found them at times simplistic — seeming to reduce the dramas of entire nations to individual stories of despair and/or hope. But I’ve discovered that there is an art and science to this approach. It was fascinating — and quite inspiring — to sit down and get inside his head on all of this.

Nicholas Kristof has lived on four, and reported on six continents, including spending formative years based in China and Japan, before he took his place on the Op-Ed pages of the Times in the cathartic year of 2001. And as he tells us, he soon realized that opining, however brilliantly, left him preaching to the choir. People who already shared his perspective would cheer him on; those who didn’t would not take in what he had to say. The true power of his editorial platform, he realized, was its capacity to bring lesser-publicized events and ideas into the light.

He is credited, most famously perhaps, for bringing the unfolding genocide in Darfur to the world’s attention. But even that “success,” which brought him a second Pulitzer Prize, left Nicholas Kristof wondering and wanting. The world’s reaction to Darfur, in his mind, did not match the tragedy at hand or the moral responsibility it should have engendered. He wanted to understand the fact — as I’ve pondered with many guests on this program across the years — that horrific images and facts are as likely to paralyze and overwhelm as to mobilize us.

And so he started reading research on brain science and the biological basis for compassion, to explore what makes the difference between moral paralysis and compassionate mobilization. We are hard-wired as humans, it seems, to respond powerfully to a single individual’s story and face. But add a second face, and that response diminishes. Add facts, and multiply that story by hundreds or millions, and empathy withers altogether.

Nicholas Kristof reframed his journalistic approach accordingly. It is fascinating to hear him talk about this, and about his own enduring worries about its manipulative connotations. He works to balance the riveting story with the big picture. An empathetic response to a single human story, he’s also learned by way of science and his own experience, can become a portal to a larger awareness. Facts and context can then begin to play a meaningful supporting role.

In the early 2000s, I felt that Nicholas Kristof was simplistic about religion too. Granted, most Western journalists were on a new kind of learning curve with regard to religion. Over the years, I have been deeply impressed by his unusual willingness to learn in public — to admit that he did not understand something, to publish his surprise and self-reversals. He’s gained a very complex and contradictory view of religion as a force in the world — capable of nurturing the worst of violence and the best of care.

He also offers a penetrating view of the self-defeating liberal-conservative/secular-religious divide on global issues as in our domestic political life. He is one of the voices waking up the world to the global scourge of sex trafficking. He believes that this will ultimately galvanize the moral consciousness of this century as slavery galvanized the 19th century. But he is watching with dismay as, for now, the two most effective activists on this issue — liberal feminists and conservative Christians — cannot agree on a shared vocabulary for describing the problem, much less join their energies.

We spend a lot of words these days on the way journalism is changing — usually with an eye to the technological and financial pressures that are changing it. Nicholas Kristof embodies deep cultural shifts that are also transforming journalism as we have known it. His journalism is a new paradigm, I think, one I’m now grateful for. I’ll call it journalism as a humanitarian art. And I look forward to seeing how it continues to evolve.

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Nicholas Kristof: A Twitterscript

by Anne Breckbill, associate web developer

Nicholas KristofOn September 3, 2010, Krista interviewed New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof for our show "Journalism and Compassion." Following is the complete behind-the-glass Twitterscript of that conversation:

  1. Krista is interviewing NYT writer Nicholas Kristof right now: http://twitter.com/nickkristof We’ll be live tweeting for the next 90 mins.
  2. "Some of the biggest human rights issues have to do with society rather than with governments."
  3. "People connect with stories that are positive and triumphant…People are turned off by unremitting despair."
  4. Kristof on one of the counter-intuitive things he’s learned as a reporter: “…it turns out that victims lie, just as perpetrators lie.”
  5. "I want to understand what it is that drives some people to butcher children…what makes them tick." — Nicholas Kristof on perpetrators
  6. "You can’t begin to address other human needs until you address security." @NickKristof on what makes a difference in humanitarian crisis.
  7. "Helping people is a lot harder than it looks."
  8. "Right now our views of Islam are so much shaped by its most venal elements."
  9. "Tradeoffs are part of the human condition. We have to struggle and search for answers." @NickKristof on the ideas of Isaiah Berlin.
  10. "Any kind of encounter with mortality…makes you conscious about what your own legacy will be." @NickKristof on the death of his father.
  11. "Dad, all my friends go to vacation in France and Italy. Can’t we just go to a beach?" @NickKristof quoting his 12-year-old daughter.
  12. "As parents we not only want to read bedtime stores to our kids but we also want to model empathy, compassion, and engagement."
  13. "For all of human history…people have lived in poverty. In this century we have the capacity to end extreme poverty."
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Unheard Cut with Nicholas Kristof: Culture Rather Than Religion

by Anne Breckbill, associate web developer

Sajida Bibi
Sajida Bibi teaches class at a shelter for abused women in Pakistan. (photo: Nicholas Kristof/The New York Times)

» download (mp3, 1:56)

"My hunch is that the violence in the Islamic world has less to do with the Qur’an or Islam than with culture, youth bulges in the population, and the marginalization of women. In Pakistan, I know a young woman whose brothers want to kill her for honor — but her family is Christian, not Muslim."

The audio clip above from Krista’s interview with Nicholas Kristof, regrettably, never made it into the final show. Here, he recounts how the story of Sajida Bibi, a Pakistani woman abused by her Christian family, serves as an example of the symbiotic relationship between culture and religion. This story reminds us, once again, to question our assumptions about faith and culture as we listen to stories different than our own. It also begs the question: how much of the dominant religious belief system, even in countries that purportedly keep church and state separate, seeps into cultural customs and cultural conformity.

Thinking about this story also made me wonder about the power of conformity. Isn’t cultural conformity itself almost a religion? Do believers in synagogues, mosques, and churches around the world do what they do primarily because of their belief systems or to conform to the social or religious cultures around them? How much of what we call consider faith expression originates from actual religious belief and how much of it originates from a desire to conform to the expressions of others that share our faith?

In fact, we live neither our religious lives nor our cultural lives in a vacuum. And as the story of the Pakistani woman illustrates, neither does anyone else.

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Transforming Journalism by Moving and Mobilizing Readers

by Krista Tippett, host

Nicholas Kristof on Journalism and CompassionI wasn’t always a fan of Nicholas Kristof’s columns in The New York Times. I’d found them at times simplistic — seeming to reduce the dramas of entire nations to individual stories of despair and/or hope. But I’ve discovered that there is an art and science to this approach. It was fascinating — and quite inspiring — to sit down and get inside his head on all of this.

Nicholas Kristof has lived on four, and reported on six, continents, including spending formative years based in China and Japan, before he took his place on the Op-Ed pages of the Times in the cathartic year of 2001. And as he tells us in the audio above, he soon realized that opining, however brilliantly, left him preaching to the choir. People who already shared his perspective would cheer him on; those who didn’t would not take in what he had to say. The true power of his editorial platform, he realized, was its capacity to bring lesser-publicized events and ideas into the light.

He is credited, most famously perhaps, for bringing the unfolding genocide in Darfur to the world’s attention. But even that “success,” which brought him a second Pulitzer Prize, left Nicholas Kristof wondering and wanting. The world’s reaction to Darfur, in his mind, did not match the tragedy at hand or the moral responsibility it should have engendered. He wanted to understand the fact — as I’ve pondered with many guests on Being across the years — that horrific images and facts are as likely to paralyze and overwhelm as to mobilize us.

And so he started reading research on brain science and the biological basis for compassion, to explore what makes the difference between moral paralysis and compassionate mobilization. We are hard-wired as humans, it seems, to respond powerfully to a single individual’s story and face. But add a second face, and that response diminishes. Add facts, and multiply that story by hundreds or millions, and empathy withers altogether.

Nicholas Kristof reframed his journalistic approach accordingly. It is fascinating to hear him talk about this, and about his own enduring worries about its manipulative connotations. He works to balance the riveting story with the big picture. An empathetic response to a single human story, he’s also learned by way of science and his own experience, can become a portal to a larger awareness. Facts and context can then begin to play a meaningful supporting role.

In the early 2000s, I felt that Nicholas Kristof was simplistic about religion too. Granted, most Western journalists were on a new kind of learning curve with regard to religion. Over the years, I have been deeply impressed by his unusual willingness to learn in public — to admit that he did not understand something, to publish his surprise and self-reversals. He’s gained a very complex and contradictory view of religion as a force in the world — capable of nurturing the worst of violence and the best of care.

He also offers a penetrating view of the self-defeating liberal-conservative/secular-religious divide on global issues as in our domestic political life. He is one of the voices waking up the world to the global scourge of sex trafficking. He believes that this will ultimately galvanize the moral consciousness of this century as slavery galvanized the 19th century. But he is watching with dismay as, for now, the two most effective activists on this issue — liberal feminists and conservative Christians — cannot agree on a shared vocabulary for describing the problem, much less join their energies.

We spend a lot of words these days on the way journalism is changing — usually with an eye to the technological and financial pressures that are changing it. Nicholas Kristof embodies deep cultural shifts that are also transforming journalism as we have known it. His journalism is a new paradigm, I think, one I’m now grateful for. I’ll call it journalism as a humanitarian art. And I look forward to seeing how it continues to evolve.

Comments