Today mediabistro.com is featuring an interview with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife and writing partner, Sheryl WuDunn. The two discuss they’re upcoming project, the book Half the Sky and its philanthropic spin-offs including their social movement Web site, HalfTheSkyMovement.org.
The couple said they hope the book, which focuses on women’s struggles and survival in developing nations, will foster a social movement for change.
“What we’ve written is a sort of do-it-yourself foreign aid tool kit,” Kristof said. “We hope to inform people, but also really help them figure how they can go about making a difference.”
With that in mind, Kristof and WuDunn offered some tips for writing for social change or trying to get people to care about your issue.
Kristof and WuDunn’s tips for raising awareness through writing:
1. Start from the ground up. “In writing Half the Sky, we looked at movements in the past and what worked and what didn’t work,” Kristof said. “It seems to us that top-down efforts basically don’t work. What you need is grassroots, bottom-up movement to make a difference.”
2. Don’t exaggerate. “Advocates often exaggerate because they care passionately about these issues,” Kristof explained. “That tends to turn off people who might otherwise climb on board. Being very rigorous about your claims actually is a more successful strategy than pounding the table and making exaggerated claims.”
3. Check out the research. “There’s been a lot of really interesting research in the field of social psychology that helps shed light on how you get people to care,” Kristof said. “There is work in particular by a man called Paul Slovic, he’s done a lot of experiments that I found really illuminating.”
4. Stick to the stories. The research in social psychology Kristof and WuDunn used advised them to focus on storytelling. “In our book, of course, we do focus on storytelling, how to tell the story, what kind of story to tell,” WuDunn said. “And in the documentary series, we’ll also focus on storytelling and how to tell these stories in a very compelling way.”
5. Find your interests. “The hardest thing is to really think carefully about what it is that you like,” WuDunn said. “If want to get involved in something, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time with it, so it’s going to have to be something that really moves you.”
Update: Kristof and WuDunn will be speaking at the 92nd Street Y on Sunday, September 13 at 7:30 p.m. as part of their promotional effort for Half the Sky. Dan Rather will be moderating. You can find more information and buy tickets here. Also, Kristof said today on Twitter that he had just taped a segment about the book for “Oprah,” which will air in October.