DIY follow-up, part 5 of 5: Future of the issue: More debate, and more nuance

(This concludes a 5-part series which responds to the responses that I received following my Foreign Policy post about Nicholas Kristof’s D.I.Y. aid concept. For more background, also see Part 1: How complicated can things really be?)

5. Future of the issue: More debate, and more nuance

Several people commented on the FP site calling for more debate and more nuance. Their comments were appreciated. The lack of public discussion around development issues leads to a lack of general understanding. This is what allows, and even encourages, Kristof to publish such a simple narrative. I know he’s a smart guy. I know he gets the complexity of these issues. He presents a simplified version because he sees his audience (the general American public) as needing a simple version.

Kristof has admitted as much, at least with regard to the charge that he uses a “Whites in Shining Armor” narrative. A few months back, he addressed this issue in a video answer to readers’ questions (transcript and analysis available at NYT Picker). On Friday, he addressed the issue again on his blog:

I’m writing for a mostly American audience, and I’m writing not about development as such but about Americans doing work in development. And the truth is that it’s already extraordinarily difficult to get readers to focus on needs half a world away; one way to do so, is to use Americans as bridge characters. Without them, even fewer people will focus on these issues.

In response to the earlier video comment, Laura Seay wrote:

Does he really believe that New York Times readers are only interested in good work being done by their fellow Americans? That we can’t relate to people on the other side of the world? Because to me, that seems insulting to the readership.

Mr. Kristof, I think you can do better.

I concur. Kristof has a huge platform at his disposal. He does these issues a disservice by not using it to raise the level of discourse.


Further reading: I had originally planned to use this post to recap what others have written as part of this debate. Someone beat me to it. At the risk of turning this blog into a Saundra Schimmelpfennig fan site, just go here for links to a dozen or so other posts about DIY aid:


And with that, dear readers, I promise not to write about Nicholas Kristof or DIY aid for a while. I haven’t got much else to say! Check out the full series: