Hi redditors. I’m Nicholas Kristof. I’m a New York Times columnist and co-author with my wife Sheryl WuDunn of the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Half the Sky is also going to be a documentary that will premiere on PBS Oct. 1 and 2 at 9pm / 8pm CT. I enjoy running, backpacking and having my Chinese and Japanese corrected by my children. Ask me anything.

I will start the AMA at 2:30pm ET. Looking forward to it!

Verification: http://i.imgur.com/7zGPD.jpg

EDIT: Thanks so much. I'm outa here for now, but one question for all of you: what advice do you have for us, in getting the word out about the Half the Sky movement documentary on PBS, and about the Half the Sky movement Facebook game? Suggestions most welcome

Comments: 330 • Responses: 27  • Date: 

Ntang155 karma

Hi, Mr. Kristof, and thanks for doing an AMA.

How do you respond to criticism that your articles on global poverty and development usually showcase some bright-eyed young white person (almost always American) working in a foreign country as the primary focus, rather than locals who are doing the same thing? This is the "whites in shining armor" journalistic bias that portrays foreign poor people as perpetual passive recipients of well-intentioned white generosity, rather than the active agents of their own country's development that they actually are.

As a former int'l aid professional, I've found this "white savior complex" in your writing irritating and misleading, as have almost all of my colleagues. I'm positive you are aware of it. I'm no journalist, but surely there are ways of informing your well-educated audience that the global poor do not need more 22 year olds starting their own NGOs or volunteering at "orphanages" - but rather, that progress depends on pressuring our public officials for smarter foreign aid policy, de-militarization of foreign assistance, and substantial reform of USAID.

EDIT: By the way, your book was good.

NicholasKristof167 karma

Good question, and one I've wondered about. But first, i wouldn't dis the 22-year-olds. There's no silver bullet, but lots of silver buckshot. And i've seen 20-somethings make a difference, just as I've seen govt aid do so -- or, sometimes, fail. As to the question of writing about foreigners, the conundrum is that frankly there's not a lot of interest in global poverty or Congo or South Sudan or Lesotho or whatever the issue may be. And I want to get people to read and make a difference. So I look for ways to get more oomph and attention to issues i care about. One is my annual win-a-trip contest. Another is doing videos and photos. Another is finding the most compelling anecdotes possible. But yet another is finding some American bridge character who will make the issue more relevant or accessible to my audience. I don't do that all the time, but is it a way to get more people to care about global issues? absolutely.

CaptainApathy41964 karma

What was it like covering the Tiananmen Square protests?

What are the best and worst foods you've tried during your travels?

NicholasKristof170 karma

I'll never forget Tiananmen. I was terrified as bullets whizzed over my head. My notebook was stained with my sweat from fear. And that night I saw a level of courage that i've never seen surpassed. there were rickshaw drivers who would drive toward the soldiers and pick up kids who'd been shot and drive them to the hospital. they drove toward me, tears streaming down their cheeks, so that i as a foreign reporter could see the carnage. I was awed by their guts.

sparkzz42 karma

What can Redditors do to combat human trafficking?

NicholasKristof84 karma

Cupla things. First and most important, there has to be much more pressure on police and prosecutors to go after pimps, not just the girls they traffic. It's outrageous that a 15-year-old girl is arrested for prostitution and treated as a criminal, while the cops don't try to go after the pimp. Look, arresting a pimp and proving the case against him is tough, but in the last few years some prosecutors have shown it can be done. And that's the way to change their incentives and send them back to peddling drugs rather than teenage flesh. so lean on your local police and prosecutors, or start a petition on change.org or work with others in your community.

i also think we need to change our norms. wife-beating used to be considered funny, and now it's recognized as criminal. likewise, teenage prostitution is considered sexy or desirable or whatever, rather than a modern echo of slavery -- which is what it is. there also are some great organizations in this space, working to end trafficking at home and abroad. support them!

paulderev16 karma

First "diss" and now "pimp!" Mr. Kristof, have you considered getting into the hip-hop game?

NicholasKristof90 karma

my first hip hop album is being released next week. On NPR....

supahappyfuntime36 karma

Hey Mr. Kristof, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do an AMA. Would you rather fight one horse sized duck, or 100 duck sized horses?

NicholasKristof92 karma

Definitely one horse-sized duck. Then I'd distract it with some cracked corn and, as it gobbled it up, I'd jump on its back and take it for a flight. I'm too poor to afford a private plane, so a personal horse-sized duck would be a nice alternative.

RedDeadDerp34 karma

Do you still feel that sweatshops are still "an unpleasant but necessary stage in industrial development"?

NicholasKristof85 karma

yes, i do. i think the critics of sweatshops are right in their criticisms, and on top of those problems some of those factories also have environmental issues (e.g. dump pollution in a river). But the big need in poor countries is jobs, jobs, jobs. And garment factories provide those jobs, often to women who don't have a lot of other alternatives. i remember a mother in indonesia telling me that her dream for her son was that he work in a sweatshop. My wife's native area in China, taishan, has been transformed by sweatshops, and women have benefited in particular. In Africa the big problem is that there aren't enough factories. I know it's not a popular view, but i think that the one thing worse than being exploited by a foreign investor is being jobless.

ranterx34 karma

Hi Nicholas, i remember seeing your coverage of the Arab Spring last year, and it was phenomenal so are your tweets. What do you make of the current situationin the Middle East? Particularly how do you feel about the YouTube video protests? Also whats a your funniest or most light hearted story about your time or travels in the Middle East?

NicholasKristof118 karma

Lots of folks are wringing their hands at the turmoil in the middle east. I think that's really premature. this is the second inning of a long ball game. as for the video protests, i think it was less about the video per se and more about politics -- and demography. my last column was on the issue: Explaining the Prophet

As for the funniest story, when I was a student living in Cairo studying Arabic, I remember my first Arabic conversation. A man asked me Ismak eh? -- which means "what's your name." so i said "ismi nick" -- "my name is nick." he looked horrified and ran away. Turns out that "nick" in arabic means "fuck." Worst of all, it's the imperative form. My name has caused problems in the Arab world ever since.

FellateFoxes22 karma

How much interaction do you have with other NYT columnists? I've always wondered since some f you guys have such vast differences in philosophy and background (David Brooks and Paul Krugman for example)

Do you discuss / debate topics with each other or just stay focused on your own individual column?

NicholasKristof65 karma

I have the most interaction with Gail Collins, because she also works in the NY headquarters and comes in regularly. David Brooks and several of the others are in DC and don't come to NY so much, and Paul Krugman is in Princeton, so I see them maybe once a year or so.

I sometimes email Tom Friedman to make sure we don't both end up in the same obscure place at the same time. And when Paul Krugman and I were on the same days, we once inadvertently denounced Pres Bush for the same obscure offense, so it looked as if we were colluding. After that we sometimes gave each other a head's-up about what we were doing to avoid that happening again -- we colluded to avoid the appearance of collusion.

DrewskiG21 karma

Nick: your travels and insight into global issues is truly inspiring. Thanks for all you do.

I'm wondering if there has ever been a time during your travels where you've dealt with or seen something so horrible, you wondered if you could keep doing what you do. How do you reconcile when there's so much ugly in the world at times?

NicholasKristof71 karma

Sure,i see things that are ugly. but side by side with the worst of humanity, you usually find the very best. twice this year, i've been in the nuba mountains of sudan, where the government is bombing and starving its people. It's horrific to see kids starving. i feel enraged by the human capacity for evil. but i also see ordinary farmers sharing their little food, even when they're hungry, with their neighbors. i see them taking risks to protect neighbors -- or to protect me. so i manage to come back from genocide in darfur or mass rape in congo or famine in nuba mountains actually feeling better about humanity. i've seen the worst that humans can do to each other, but mostly i'm inspired by the courage and decency and goodness that so many ordinary people summon in those circumstances.

firecracker2721 karma

I've noticed you take a lot of flak for your tweets and columns regarding Israel. How did you arrive at your stance on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict? What do you view as the major humanitarian issues in the region? What advice do you have for creating a reasonable dialogue on such a hot-button issue, and what hope do you see for people with large megaphones such as yourself to drive a productive discussion?

NicholasKristof48 karma

i take flak about israel, but i take flak on lots of issues and it doesn't really bother me. when you've had warlords and militias hold you at gunpoint in the jungle, criticism in tweets doesn't seem so bad.

I do think that one unhelpful thing about lots of Web commentary is that it is more about building heat than light. i think those of us in the opinion gig can try to acknowledge opposing views and be respectful even of views we disagree. I should do a better job at this; i'm at fault in getting on my high horse, too.

b3autifulchaos20 karma

Hello Mr. Kristof. Thanks for doing the AMA. You wrote a piece last year, “What About American Girls Sold on the Streets?”, which addressed the problem of human sex trafficking, juvenile prostitution in the United States. You featured a book written by survivor Rachel Lloyd. For every success story like Ms. Lloyd, who escaped her pimp, earned college degrees and started GEMS, there seems to be countless victims still within the life of prostitution and trafficking.

What is your viewpoint on Sara Kruzan, who has been imprisoned since she was a teenager for first degree murder of her child sex-captor? What within in our system needs to change to ensure pimps and traffickers are the ones punished - is it society’s viewpoint of domestic minor sex trafficking or antiquated laws?

NicholasKristof39 karma

From what i know about Sara's case, i think her sentence should be commuted to time served. She was abused by a pimp, whom she then murdered -- and while i don't condone murder, i think we need far more compassion and empathy for girls like her and what they endure at the hands of pimps.

There's this sense -- from police and the public alike -- that 15-year-old girls on the street in short skirts and tight tops are there of their own volition, and it's so much more complicated than that. When a white middle class girl like Elizabeth Smart is kidnapped and undergoes a Stockholm Syndrome identification with her abuser, we understand immediately and empathize. All girls deserve the same empathy and understanding -- and Sara deserves to be out of prison. Governor Brown, you listening?

cornrowed_honkey19 karma

What's your opinion on the 2011 documentary "Page One: Inside the New York Times"?

NicholasKristof40 karma

I'm a deer in the headlights! You caught me -- i never actually saw it.....But don't tell my colleagues.

Haystack-Charm17 karma

Hi Nicholas. I'm a young aspiring journalist. Having gone through an entire 4-year program to get my Bachelor's in Journalism, a lot of us in the program have felt distressed. I'm still pursuing writing but a lot of my friends and peers have given up and moved on to different things. It has also been a point of contention in my family with some relatives telling me I'm making a mistake. Everyone loves to blame the Internet and blogs for "ruining the industry." I've heard many things from different angles about this issue, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.

  1. Do you feel like the internet/blogs are a necessary evil for journalism or a positive step toward fast moving information/truth? Or do you feel it is something else?

  2. How would you suggest a young journalist adapt to build a career in journalism in 2012?

  3. Do you find your career rewarding? What is the hardest part of being a full time columnist? (are you a full time columnist?)

Thanks for considering answering these. I appreciate your work.

NicholasKristof30 karma

Oh, my job totally sucks. Go be an accountant....

jk. don't tell my bosses, but i'm still amazed that they pay me to do what is an incredibly rewarding job. this is the most fun you can have legally. And you can't think of the internet as a necessary evil; it's just an intrinsic part of our future. frankly, i think journalism has to become much more willing to embrace new forms, much more willing to take risks. that's why i was the first times blogger, and why i do so much with twitter, fb and google+. we don't know exactly what our future business model is, but it is going to be something more social and interactive.

deltagrammar13 karma

Hi Nick, I was living in Phnom Penh and working at the Cambodia Daily last year when you visited and live-tweeted a brothel raid with Somaly Mam. At the time, my coworkers and I were split on whether we thought the attention your tweets brought was a positive thing for attempts to shut down the sex trafficking and underage prostitution that's such a problem in the culture--or an ego trip for you. Can you talk about your decision to live-tweet the raid? (I personally thought it gave an interesting look into a shady issue.) Did you see any impact (positive or negative) that you could attribute directly to the publicity surrounding your tweeting of the raid?

Thanks for doing the AMA. I found Half the Sky to be incredibly illuminating and I love your column.

NicholasKristof28 karma

look, journalism and twitter can both be ego trips, so i wouldn't deny that ego plays a role. but drama brings attention to neglected problems, and attention helps make a difference.

that brothel that i raided with Somaly Mam was run by the military and men were lining up each day to rape the 12-year-old girl we freed. She just sent me a lovely video message the other day, and it was so wonderful to see her smiling and happy.

My main concern in live-tweeting the raid was alerting the military that we were doing the raid. That's why i didn't send advance notice about it. But if i can do so without risking the amazing cambodians doing the heroic heavy lifting, i want to shine every light i can on the brothels. that includes my columns, my videos, my fb posts -- and, yes, my live tweeting a brothel raid. i'm pretty shameless about using every weapon in my arsenal.

NicholasKristof21 karma

Oh, and I don't just live-tweet brothel raids. I'll also be live-tweeting (with lots of others) the Half the Sky broadcast on PBS oct 1 and 2 at 9 pm. Join in! use#halfthesky halftheskymovement.org/livetweet

NotActualName12 karma

How did you and Sheryl WuDunn meet?

NicholasKristof27 karma

So I was a young business reporter for the NY Times, based in Los Angeles, and Sheryl was a young business reporter for the WS Journal in Los Angeles. So we were competitors, and we started dating the way a CIA and KGB couple might date. We couldn't talk about anything either of us were doing. This was such a burden that we had to get married and have Sheryl join the Times.....and boy, I'm lucky!

Roflzilla9 karma

How did you get into journalism? When did you know journalism is what you wanted to do?

NicholasKristof22 karma

In the eighth grade in Yamhill Grade School in Yamhill, Oregon, the school decided to start a student newspaper. There was an organizational meeting after school, and several kids went. But while they wanted to work on a paper, none of them wanted the responsibility of editing it. So they chose me as editor in my absence -- and my journalistic career was born. True story.

seans28 karma

Hi Mr. Kristof,

Living in Oregon and being from the Pacific Northwest, can you share your favorite backpacking trip that you've taken in this area of the country? Thanks!

NicholasKristof19 karma

I've hiked almost all of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon, most of it several times over, and my daughter and I are seeing if we can hike the whole trail, Mexico to Canada, in chunks. My favorite hikes are Timberline Trail around Mount Hood (although there is now one part that is a bit hairy because of a washout), the circular route around Three Sisters, and the PCT through Goat Rocks in Washington State. And my advice: try ultralight backpacking. Skip the tent (use a tarp), and keep your base weight below 10 pounds.

richardleosimones8 karma

I'm a political science student that would like to move into writing. What type of exercises would you recommend to improve my writing?

NicholasKristof22 karma

my main advice: read, read, read. And write, write, write. that's the way you get to be a better writer. But up and coming journalists will have to do more than write. you'll also have to shoot photos and video and record sound and tweet and fb -- and reddit.....

katz91878 karma

Hi, Nick. @katz here. Interested to know how you decide where you'll travel to for stories, and also what your first (non-intuitive) reporting steps are after choosing. I'm working toward a career in foreign and conflict reporting, and appreciate any insight you can offer. Thanks, Andrew.

NicholasKristof15 karma

I look for stories that are under-covered, where I think my coverage can make a difference. And I'm a huge believer that you have to go out to other countries and leave the capital and talk to people and listen -- and then listen some more! that's the theory behind the Half the Sky documentary on PBS Oct 1 and 2. And given how long it takes to get to the places I go, I need to be sure that if i get there, i can do several different columns from that destination.

I also don't want to get killed. so i weigh the safety/danger of a place with the risks of reporting there. I haven't reported from within Syria recently, even though i've thought about it, because we've already lost several journalists there. I can be quite a chicken.

The big challenge for foreign reporting is that I think the US is losing interest. For a decade or so after 9/11, the US was quite interested in the world, an aberration in our history of insularity. Now I think we're reverting the more normal situation where we're quite inward looking. That also poses huge problems for those of us who care about global poverty. Already, the one thing most voters agree on is cutting the foreign aid budget, even though real humanitarian aid is only about one-half of 1 percent of the federal budget.

will_da_thrill6 karma

Something I've always wondered: do columnists at the NYT get competitive about making it on the most emailed list? I imagine you all cursing Krugman around the water cooler for making it on the list every week, or whining about how Brooks' columns only make it on because people are emailing their friends the link to his column saying "HAVE YOU SEEN THIS ASSHOLE?"

I've really enjoyed your columns. I get the impression that your writing is guided by conscience and objective research rather than partisan hackery. I particularly liked your bit about endocrine disruptors. It's an extremely important topic that gets far too little coverage.

NicholasKristof18 karma

I'm not sure about my colleagues. But for my part I'm always happy if a column of mine ends up as no. 1 on the emailed list, and disappointed if a column i care about languishes at the bottom of the list.

Yet i think we all realize that we can't let popularity drive decisions about what we write about. the issues i care most passionately about, from sudan to sex trafficking, aren't ever going to do well on the most emailed list, because they're off the agenda. that's precisely the reason i'm writing about them, trying to get people to care more about neglected issues.

All that said, I've thought about hiring a "click farm" in China to mass- email my columns so that they would rise on the list and get more attention.

jacqueofalltrades6 karma

Currently at your presentation at the Social Good Summit.

For your Facebook game, you mentioned that J&J and other companies had donated money that you can unlock via the game to give to real people. What is the purpose of unlocking it rather than just giving it away immediately to the people that need it?

Is it about spreading awareness or something else?

Thanks so much!

NicholasKristof9 karma

Just to back up, for those who weren't at the Social Good Summit...we have a Half the Sky game coming out on Facebook on Nov. 13. We announced today that J&J and Pearson are donating $500k so that game play will unlock money for books for needy kids and surgery for women with fistulas. We hope that this will address two issues. First, the FB game will help spread the word about gender injustices, not just preaching to the choir, but building it. Second, game play will have a real impact so that kids in Vietnam will get books and learn to read, and women with fistulas in Somaliland will get the surgery they need. the Half the Sky game is an experiment, but it seems to be really coming together.

classiqueP295 karma

What do you think of the recent Backpage/Village Voice Media split? Will it make targeting Backpage "adult" classified easier now that they're separate entities and these ads are no longer running in print publication? Would you consider this a win?

wc_gymnast3 karma

I'm curious about this split too. I saw the link in Huffington Post this morning at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/24/village-voice-backpage-breakup_n_1908347.html.

NicholasKristof17 karma

Backpage has become the premier site for sex trafficking. Lots of the sex ads are placed by voluntary, consensual sex workers, but lots are placed by girls controlled by pimps. In the past the fact that backpage was controlled by Village Voice Media created some leverage, and now i'm afraid there'll be less leverage to target Backpage to get out of this business (or to require ads to be placed in person). So i don't see this as a step forward, unfortunately.

pkeane5 karma

Hi Mr. Kristof -

I enjoy your work, but I really wish you would revisit your views on teacher's unions and teachers. My wife is a hard-working teacher (bilingual first-grade here in Austin). She loved "Half the Sky," but is incredibly disheartened discouraged by the current anti-teacher environment. It's all so terribly condescending and paternalistic (not to mention a definite strain of sexism). She's highly educated as am I, and this is the path she chose (she loves teaching). She's been a teacher for 20 years. And she's just about ready to quit.

NicholasKristof19 karma

You're not the only one disappointed in my stance on school reform. I have lots of folks who like my work on so many subjects but think I'm brain-dead on education.

All i can say is that the best escalator out of poverty -- whether we're talking about Nepal or Newark -- is education. And yet that escalator is broken, or if anything going in the wrong direction. White middle class kids get good schools and excellent teachers in the suburbs, and black or Latino kids in the inner cities get lousy schools and weaker teachers. There's no simple solution, and early childhood education and programs like the nurse-family partnership are crucial to reduce the gaps at age five. But we can also have a longer school year and longer school days -- it was appalling that Chicago kids had a school year two weeks shorter and a school day an hour shorter than the average American public school kid. We can also get more effective teachers, for there's huge variation in teacher effectiveness even in poor, urban schools. That means paying teachers more, but also weeding out those who are the least effective. A bottom 1 percent teacher is equivalent to a kid missing 40 percent of the school year. I wouldn't want that teacher for my kids, so why should such a teacher be retained for inner city black kids?

EvyE5 karma

Hello, Mr. Kristof! Will you write more about your experiences from the road-trip through Iran? In my opinion, we need this information sorely, to be able to distinguish between the regime and the people - to be able to think beyond the biased information we get from "both" sides, the regimes info and western info...

NicholasKristof12 karma

I loved that road trip through Iran, but I milked it pretty thoroughly. The Iranian government was not happy, so I doubt I'll get another visa, unfortunately. But I will continue to write about Iran, because I'm quite afraid that the US and Iran are drifting toward war over Tehran's nuclear program. I think that would be a disaster that would only create a nationalist backlash that would keep the Iranian government in power longer.

gagneama5 karma

Hi Mr. Kristof, my name is Amanda and I wanted to start by saying thank you for all that you do. I am one of your campus ambassadors for the Half the Sky Movement and am studying International Relations and Diplomacy at Seton Hall University because of the impact Half the Sky has had on my life. I know many people are asking a similar question, but I was wondering what field you would suggest would allow me to improve the lives of women the most? The debate students in my program usually go through is whether to enter a job with the government or an NGO. Again, thank you!

NicholasKristof3 karma

Hey, Amanda, thanks so much for being a campus ambassador for Half the Sky! And for anyone else who is interested in being a campus ambassador, go to the HalftheSkyMovement.org website and hit the "act" tab. And help spread the word about the documentary on Oct 1 and 2 on pbs at 9 pm. that's our next big opportunity to reach people.

I don't think there's any one answer to your question. Some people make a difference in government, others in ngo's, others in journalism or the corporate world. And you don't have to devote your life to this -- you can also have a regular job and do something fulfilling on the side. But i do think it's important for people to find some outlet for their humanitarian side, some way of finding meaning and fulfillment. I hope the Half the Sky role helps you do that, Amanda, and thanks so much for your work!

Lincoln334 karma

Hi Nick, just curious, what is your favorite piece of your own work?

NicholasKristof6 karma

The things i'm proudest of are my reporting on Darfur, on sex trafficking, and on obstetric fistula, because i think that they really made a difference of some of the world's most voiceless people. The one thing i have with my NYT column is a bellow, and it's great to be able to use it on behalf of those who need it.