Finding what’s lost, via the media

November 25, 2012

Nice piece in the Boston Globe about the search for a runaway child. It makes the point that the parents used social media cleverly, and hence new media was key to success. But they didn’t succeed until the story hit TV (old media) and then a whistleblower called the cops (old fashioned source).

In fact this is interesting I think precisely because the three techniques all worked together. The parents have produced  a guide to using social media to find runaways and set up a nonprofit, “Find Your Missing Child,” which seems like a great idea. Its interesting to compare also with the old technique of putting ads on milk cartons. Anyone know if there are any data on relative success rates? What works? Any evidence?

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Can non-profit journalism save the day?

September 20, 2010

The non-profit sector and the media continue to flirt with each other, and even have the occasional offspring. This morning, the Guardian launched its website on global development, http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development. Madeleine Bunting introduced the new baby on the oped page and the web. It is interesting because it is funded by the Gates Foundation, and indeed they are credited on the site’s home page. The peg is the UN summit on Global Development in New York, though the partnership is longer lasting and more substantial.

“It is the first time the Guardian has developed a partnership with a major charitable foundation to fund a strand of its core journalism,” says Bunting. “Part of the agreement includes safeguarding the Guardian’s editorial independence. Both organisations are committed to making achievement of the UN goals a central strand of the new site. But alongside the challenge of working in a partnership with a foundation, the site has set itself a big ambition of curating a global conversation about development.”

Beyond editorial independence, a second (and related) issue is that not everyone agrees about development: its importance, how it is funded, what results are possible or desirable. There are lots of different audiences, and as Bunting says: “The problem about these different audiences is that while they often have much knowledge of the subject, they don’t much like talking to each other. Part of the challenge on the new site will be to host all these conversations – all of which are crucial to the debate in their very different ways. Will that mean that everyone gets cross at some point or another with the site? Probably.”

Non-profits have an agenda, a way of working and resolving conflicts, and they have  financial interests. It will be interesting to see how the new experiments work out. How easy will the site and its funders be with controversy? And with mistakes? And with conflict? All of these things are somewhat inevitable in reporting. The cultural issues will be significant if the new journalism is to mean more than just taking a handout.

My own brief experience in non-profits is that there are massive opportunities for both sides in teaming up, or working alongside each other, or even in replacing each other from time to time. Non-profits are starting to make interesting moves into the field; journalism is starting to look for other funding .

There are many different models. ProPublica is essentially a news venture that focuses on developing public interest stories and finances them through foundation grants and individual donations. It aims to get its stories into mainstream publications and media where possible. FreePress puts more of a political and social message around non-profit and low-profit ventures. The Guardian is featuring journalism funded by the non-profit sector, but not guided by it. National Public Radio (often forgotten) is a hybrid of public and private funding. Human Rights Watch produces its own media, more or less, and hired a bunch of journos.

Not surprisingly, this flirtation between non-profits and journos has excited a lot of policy wonkery. Duke University’s Sanford School looked at the options in this series of papers, based on a conference. This conference at UW Madison examined some of the ethical issues, including who was an acceptable backer. And the Nieman Journalism Lab has looked at what makes non-profit journalism legit, and proposed some standards. This blog covers the issues.

Despite the anguished ethical debates, conflict of interest is only part of the issue: it is at least as much a question of conflict of cultures, and this will be hard to bridge, as Mary Walton explains in the American Journalism Review. “Says Laura Frank, who is navigating the new channels as head of a startup, the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network, “People think, ‘Oh, wow. You don’t have to deal with advertisers,’ but it’s kind of the same thing. Foundations are used to funding something and having control over it. You have to explain to them that there is a firewall: ‘What you’re funding is the act of journalism for the benefit of society.’ ”

There are a couple of bigger questions for the non-profits and foundations, too – like: why fund journalism? “I have in my wallet three million dollars,” said Jack Shafer, media critic of Slate, at a symposium on investigative reporting quoted in the AJR piece.  “The opera wants it, the ballet wants it, the museum wants it, the YMCA, poor kids in Africa want it.” Why give it to journalists? Or journalism? Or news? Or media?  Can they get more by handing over money, or internalizing the resources and doing it themselves? What bang for their buck do they get?

Newsosaur, a blogger who writes on the news and business, is completely unconvinced. It would require far, far more money than the charitable sector is capable of providing to pay for all current newsgathering, he says. “So, let’s stop dreaming about a visit from the Non-Profit News Bunny and get serious about discovering some realistic possibilities.” To be fair, no-one is saying that everything will go this way, but he has a point.

The trend can only continue; I have some (non-rhetorical) questions about this:

  1. Is this a good use of money (Can’t they get a proper job)? Why does journalism deserve charitable status or money? What are the non-profits getting out of it that they couldn’t through other means?  Why pour money into activities and people that apparently weren’t capable of generating it themselves?
  2. Will this produce good journalism (Up to a point, Lady Bountiful)? Does the institutional culture of journalism work with a foundation culture? Will people still pick fights, dig dirt, kick against the pricks? Or will it tend towards the worst aspects of non-profits and trade journalism: inward looking, clubby, self-satisfied? Does the need to sell and be read actually have a role to play 9and can these be decoupled)?
  3. What about competition (Mr Gates)? What impact will this have on other media that remains revenue-focussed? Will it price some of it out of the market? Will there still be a role for competition in the coverage of, say, development through (for example) the New Internationalist (a workers co-op, btw). Does it make sense to have competition in any case?
  4. Does this only work for some things? Does this decouple investigative and public interest journalism from the city beat, sports, financial, community reporting, politics etc? One of the advantages of the old model was that everyone competed for space and shared resources; is that over? Does public interest journalism now exist in a subsidized, gilded ghetto?
  5. What happens to the stuff that gets left out? We accept that not all new business models will cover everything. So: if some stuff can be paid for (business, sport and celebrity); and some can be locally  or crowd-sourced (community news, reviews etc); and some gets paid for by non-profits, what falls through the cracks? What can’t be covered by money, vanity, love and charity? And does it matter? Reporting on mental health? Local government?

The Job Of The Week

September 6, 2010

One of the best places for a comms professional to find news about jobs is on the Job Of The Week email. This is mainly, but not exclusively, US, and includes most forms of comms – PR, internal comms, social media.   

It comes in the form of a long email, and can be found at www.nedsjotw.com. It is put together co-operatively by members who send jobs.  If you find out about a job opportunity in communications, send it to Ned Lundquist (lundquist989@cs.com), and he’ll share it. Sign up by sending a blank e-mail to JOTW-subscribe@topica.com. There are over 11,000 subscribers.

Some examples: 

  1. Communication for Development Specialist (Polio Eradication),  UNICEF, New Delhi, India
  2. The Phoenix Art Museum is seeking a Director of Marketing & Public Relations
  3. Fall Intern, Marketing Strategy & Operations (unpaid internship), Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Atlanta, GA
  4. Senior Manager; Corporate Communications (PT), AstraZeneca, Wilmington, Delaware
  5. Lecturer: Social and Behaviour Change Communication, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
  6. Marketing/Communications Manager, Oregon Zoo, Portland, OR
  7. Associate Director of Alumni Relations Communications, The American University, Washington, DC
  8. Art Director, Photography, Victoria’s Secret Direct, New York, NY
  9. Internal Communications Manager, Tesco-VMA Group, Hertfordshire, UK
  10. Communication Specialist, Outreach to Development Professionals,  L-3, United Nations Children’s Fund, USA

I’ll be posting a few more items about jobs in the next week.


Say what?

February 28, 2009

Favourite headline of the week, on a journalism training website: “How to Handle Quotes from Inarticulate People


Ten Uses for an Ex-Journalist. IV: Skills

February 5, 2009

You have real aptitudes that are useful to others if you have worked in virtually any area of journalism. These are not necessarily what you think: the more general, work-related skills you may not have even realised you have, while more specific, technical skills in which you excel might not be so easily portable.

1.       Writing and Editing. If you are a print journalist, you can probably write and/or edit. You may not be Proust, Ben Bradlee or Simon Jenkins, but you can probably write and edit better than 99 per cent of the population. This is a transferable skill. You can communicate better than others, and you can help others communicate better. Write their reports, their powerpoints, even their emails. This may well seem prosaic and dull; that is because you are good at it and is easy to you. That, in turn, is why people will pay you for it. The miracle of the market economy, eh?

2.       Interviewing. Talking to people in a structured way is harder than you think. Journalists spend a lot of time doing this. They may be socially dysfunctional, their personal lives may be disaster areas, but they know how to get people to talk about themselves, or others. This is a critical skill in a lot of industries executive search, market research, business intelligence, etc. Just don’t assume it means you are “good with people.” You probably aren’t.

3.       Research: you know about finding stuff out, and quick. This gives you and edge in business intelligence, but also in a number of other fields. It is an undervalued skill (by you) – you are very good at it and so are your colleagues, and so you assume everyone is. They aren’t – many can’t find their ass with Google Earth, let alone the names of the top five law firms in Saudi Arabia (or whatever). Again: supply and demand.

4.       Sales and Marketing. Journalists sell themselves and they sell their stories. As editors, subs and layout, they sell their product. Headline writing, page layout and story conferences are all about projecting something, competing in a market for ideas, and closing a deal. Many of the technical skills that come with this might not be relevant, but the general approach certainly is: advocacy, persuasion, eliciting needs, designing solutions etc. Equally, making and building contacts is a key sales skill.

5.       Design. And not just the page layout guys and designers. Information design – how to get someone to read something – is second nature to many journalists. That includes everything from brevity of writing to positioning to use of colour. You will understand better than colleagues how to use an email subject line; where to place an ad; and why that picture of the boss looks posed and unnatural.

6.       Management and Leadership. Huh? Yes, you. You have run a newsdesk and a budget. You aren’t equipped to lead Microsoft into the new generation of Windows, but you probably know more than you think about budgets, people, logistics and plans. Anyone that has done a news list understands project management to a degree. And editors do have to be leaders, in difficult circumstances, with difficult people.

7.       Risk management. journalists are used to having to work around difficult, unpredictable environments, especially abroad. This is in and of itself a useful skill. It makes them good at improvising, sensitive to what can go wrong, and prudential – while still risk-taking.

8.       Current Affairs: Less compelling than you (or I) might think. The skills and knowledge that come from, say, local, national or international politics are not that interesting to most businesses. Clearly they are very useful to lobbyists and public affairs people, but this may well be an area where you see your hard-earned knowledge undervalued in the marketplace. Good for getting a conversation started, though.

9.       Specialist subjects: Depends. Your knowledge of an industry or sector can be very useful, in communications, in consulting, financial services, or in your own publishing business. It can help make you a success in sales and marketing, and it can give you a real advantage. But if the specialist subject is, let’s say, terrorism, that may be less than useful. Equally, if your knowledge comes from contacts, ensure you can keep them up: will they still want to deal with you when you move on? Do not, in short rely on this, unless you can quickly transport it into a new life.

10.   Resourcefulness. Lack of resources has helped make journalists resourceful people. So have deadlines. We need to find stuff, persuade people, get places, make things work, stop things breaking, quickly, and we are consequently pretty good at improvising. Other trades don’t encourage this so people fail when systems fail.

Recovering Journalist on transferable skills.

Robert Half International on identifying transferable skills

Monster.com on transferable skills

Interview tips for career changers from Monster.com

Index to this subject

Part Three: Get Moving!

Tomorrow – Part Five: Attitudes


The top slot at Berkeley J-School

February 2, 2009

Nearly 400 applications for the post of dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, reports Editor and Publisher. It is a pretty grand position at a rather grand school.