In a technological world with so many outlets for transmitting information and where reporting has been reduced to a synthesis of secondary sources, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof –who delivered a lecture at Campbell Hall last week — still insists on doing it the old-fashioned way.
Responsible for increasing American awareness of international humanitarian issues such as the Darfur crisis, Kristof has dedicated his life and a biweekly column to the firsthand reporting of some of the world’s most dire and underrepresented problems.
“Reporter,” executive produced by Ben Affleck and directed, photographed and edited by Eric Daniel Metzgar, is a docu-glimpse into the life of this truly remarkable journalistic force as well as a plea for humanitarianism and responsible journalism.
The film opens with a quote from Mother Teresa: “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” This quote acts as Metzgar’s thesis and prefaces the film’s unifying concept of “psychic numbing.” Psychic numbing is a psychological theory stating that one can feel compassion for the individual but has trouble processing compassion for large numbers of individuals simultaneously.
As the film indicates, psychic numbing is a concept that Kristof has internalized over his long career as a columnist. He understands that statistics of genocide do not translate to print, but personal stories do, and his reporting is a quest to find the personal stories that will maximize the compassion of his readership.
Although Kristof’s methods are inherently noble, it is truly shocking how unaffected he appears to be by the despair he investigates. Accompanying him on his journey into war-ravaged Congo are an American med student and an inner-city English and photography teacher. Juxtaposed with the passionate and obviously emotional med student who feels called to personally help all of the people she encounters, Kristof remains calm and reserved, pursuant of fact and journalistic angles.
Though this seems counterintuitive to a man known for perpetuating compassion, Kristof reveals that as a journalist, he is restricted in what he is able and unable to do.
He cannot change the world one person at a time, but he can contribute to the greater good by reporting definitive facts, and this necessitates a discerning and critical perspective.
In addition to the film’s role as an examination of Kristof’s methods, the film also presents some genuinely moving moments. These include the story of a starving Congo native whom Kristof and crew rush to a hospital in an unfortunately futile attempt to save her life. In moments like these, Kristof and Metzgar’s psychic-numbing thesis is fully explicated as the pain of this individual is undeniably compassion-inspiring.
In “Reporter,” Metzgar’s reporting rivals that of Kristof. Humanely made, this film is both a glimpse into an unfamiliar world and an exposure of how we perceive that world through an ever-changing media industry.