Nicholas Kristof has reported from around the globe for decades, but his coverage this year was particularly distinctive, innovative and powerful. What other columnist could speak so authoritatively on such a range of issues? The haunting images of malnourished children in Yemen; the plague of gun violence; the looming threat of war with North Korea; the specter of genocide in Myanmar; and the gripping story of Kevin Cooper, awaiting execution on death row in California and likely framed by the police.
Kristof has long embraced digital storytelling. You can regularly find him talking to readers on Facebook Live, Twitter and comment threads. His newsletter, delivered to hundreds of thousands of readers, provides a behind-the-scenes and conversational connection beyond his columns.
But his latest work, in close collaboration with colleagues in video, audio and graphics, has yielded wholly original forms of digital commentary — all of which were conceived as digital-first columns later adapted to print.
Consider scrolling through the faces of children in Yemen, studying data visualizations on gun deaths, exploring clear maps and infographics from a brutal crime scene or a video of the regime in North Korea. Compare the audio narrative of Kevin Cooper’s story on ‘The Daily’ to the visually driven and smartphone-optimized digital version; both versions offer so many more layers than possible in text alone.
Kristof, an Oregon farm boy who once toted a .22, has focused for years on gun violence as a virulent killer of Americans. In 2015, he preached the need for “an evidence-based public health approach — the same model we use to reduce deaths from other potentially dangerous things around us, from swimming pools to cigarettes” (https://nyti.ms/1iUpbBB). After November’s church shooting in Texas, he worked with colleagues to build the definitive visual essay explaining how to reduce shootings that is now, unfortunately, updated regularly.
Impact is the best measure of Kristof’s work. His coverage of the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen sparked a Congressional effort to ban arms sales. And fewer than 24 hours after publishing Kevin Cooper’s story, Senator Kamala Harris, who as state attorney general had opposed advanced DNA testing, promptly put out a statement calling on Governor Jerry Brown to allow testing. Senator Dianne Feinstein and gubernatorial candidate John Chiang also backed testing.
There is a gripping vitality about Kristof’s commentary. He continually speaks up for the disadvantaged and voiceless, the forgotten, the ignored, both abroad and at home. But while some columnists pontificate from behind desks, Kristof does original reporting from the field, sometimes at great risk to himself, typically from places few other journalists go. No one better embodies the power of committed journalists to shape the public agenda and make our planet a better place.
It’s been 14 years since ONA last recognized Kristof’s distinctive voice — and it’s remarkable how much the form of his work has transformed while unwavering in its mission.