"If I can make people spill their coffee in the morning..."
Last Thursday, the US Holocaust Museum, one of the convening organizations of the Genocide Prevention Task Force, hosted New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof on Voices of Genocide Prevention. Kristof discussed his work on illuminating human rights abuses worldwide through his columns and books and explained his philosophy of using journalism to engage his audience in the issues he covers, including Darfur and Congo. "Because if I can make people spill their coffee in the morning and help put those issues on the agenda," he says, "then that’s the first step toward getting them resolved." He recognized that in order to get people to feel connected to conflicts happening half a world away, he needed to bring people in with the power of a story--which often means covering terrible tragedy while also recognizing the hope and spirit that survives.
While Kristof recognizes that oftentimes activist movements, inevitably and out of necessity, oversimplify incredibly complex crises, he stood by the importance of emotionally engaging people to bring them into a more in depth understanding. He thinks that the initial emotional exposure to stories is the only chance of people seeking further engagement in an issue. Furthermore, he is incredibly confident that the anti-genocide movement has had an impact onDarfur; "there are hundreds of thousands of people who are alive today both in Chad and in Darfur itself who wouldn’t be if it hadn’t been for that kind of movement," he commented.
In the places and issues he has covered, from brothels in Cambodia to sexual violence in Congo, "you see unbelievably brutal atrocities and you meet absolutely terrible people, warlords and others. But you also see unbelievable altruism and incredible compassion." While his work to expose these crises may leave some feeling hopeless, he believes that "it’s trying to use that spotlight to illuminate something that has not received adequate attention in the hopes that a little more attention really will make a difference."
You can listen to the entire interview here.