25 March 2013

Kristof on Half the Sky the Game and International Reporting

I asked Nick Kristof a few questions about his new Facebook game. I put them into an article for Humanosphere at the beginning of the month. However, I figured I might as well share the raw interview. I keep saying I want to share stuff like this, but keep forgetting. So, here is my attempt to keep good on my promises. For the sake of speed, I am not editing this. Please forgive Nick and I for any errors in spelling and grammar.

Asi mentioned that you had been thinking about a game as a part of Half the Sky almost from the beginning. Why did a advocacy game interest you?
One of the problems with a book is that the people who read it are mostly those who agree with it. We tried to pull more people in with the Half the Sky television documentary, partly with the use of famous actresses, but likewise most of the people who watched it were presumably those who thought that the issue of women’s empowerment is an important one. We don’t just want to preach to the choir, but rather to build the choir, so we were looking for ways to reach people who have no interest whatsoever in these issues. Games are a pretty good way to reach a diverse online audience, and we see this as an experiment. As far as we know there has never been an online social purpose game with this much backing behind it, and maybe it’ll prove to be an important tool to raise awareness and build the advocacy community. Or maybe it won’t. But one of the things I’ve learned in journalism is that we have to be willing to experiment and try new things. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
The game will benefit a group of NGOs. How did these relationships develop?
The partners are mostly NGO’s whom we had worked with in the making of the documentary.
How do you define awareness raising in the context of Half the Sky across all the platforms (book, documentary, game, website)? What will success look like for the Half the Sky movement?
I don’t have precise goals or metrics of success for the game. Ultimately, we’d like to get women’s rights and empowerment to be more a part of the global conversation and higher on the global agenda. One challenge is that here in the U.S. right now, I think the public is retreating from an interest in global affairs, so in that sense we may be sailing against the wind. 
Based on your research and experience, what steps must be taken to achieve global gender equity?
There are no silver bullets, but I think the two interventions that matter the most for empowering women are access to education and the opportunity to earn an income and control economic assets. There’s a vast range of challenges, though, from FGM/FGC to human trafficking to maternal mortality. In general, I think legal solutions matter a bit less than social change.
It appears your career has been an evolution from journalist to journalist/activist to activist/journalist. How do you see your work in the coming years? In what ways can activism and journalism work in concert?
I’m not so sure that I’ve changed as much as you think. There was certainly a big change in 2001 when I moved from newsroom journalist to opinion columnist, but I was pretty passionate in my columns against the Iraq war in 2003/04, or about Darfur in 2004-07. It’s a fine line, because I think many of us went into journalism because we wanted to make a difference in the world – and yet you can’t have every reporter covering city council meetings determined to make a difference. Particularly with Darfur, I walked pretty close to the line sometimes in trying to galvanize a response to what I considered genocide, and I certainly wanted not only to inform people but also to stop the slaughter. And even in earlier points in my career, I sometimes did things that veered off the traditional dispassionate, neutral course of journalism: in China, after one of my sources was imprisoned and then escaped, I helped him flee from China. We described that in our book China Wakes.
I was really interested in this comment "I think the public is retreating from an interest in global affairs, so in that sense we may be sailing against the wind." I assume you are optimistic that the metaphorical winds can change or at lease become less resistant. Aside from your own reporting and the Half the Sky Movement, what do you think can be done to change this trend or at least slow it down?
I don’t think there’s any easy answer. The u.s. has historically been insular and inward-looking, and I think we’re reverting to that norm. It would help if universities encouraged more study abroad and int’l studies. My hunch is that the news media will have less coverage of global issues in the coming years.