Advocacy or journalism?

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Is Amnesty International a media organization? Should they (or any other activist non profit organization) aim to be one? Dan Gillmor has started a great discussion on his blog about this. He says we should be finding ways to get human rights, environmental and other advocacy organizations that do large amounts of in-depth research and reporting, especially in other countries. In a discussion of business models for foreign here at Berkman yesterday, Ethan Zuckerman said that doesn’t really help solve the problem of how to get more international news to the US public, because in the end that just means Human Rights Watch will be going to the same funders as Global Voices projects for support. But I agree with Dan that getting the work of what he calls the “almost-journalists” to a broader public in a format that is based on journalistic principles is well worth doing. In a sense of course, that’s what we get when a journalist covers a report by the International Crisis Group. But NGOs have long been frustrated by how hard it is to get the media to pay attention to their issues and many are now producing not only nice-looking reports, but online articles, blogs, audio, video, and multimedia. But those materials, which range from basic to quite complex productions, don’t get the added credibility or the increased attention they would have if they reached the audiences of a trusted journalism brand, whether a newspaper, broadcaster or native-online publication.

UPDATE: I’m embarrassed to have forgotten to mention Public News Service here which seems to be doing exactly the thing I describe below, using a pool of money from nonprofits to produce and distribute radio stories that are created by professional journalists. They were languishing in my list of interesting groups to investigate more, which I will do, and write about them in a post to come.

So I believe it would be helpful if there were a way for advocacy groups to spend some of their outreach money not begging journalists for attention, but funding organizations to hire journalists who will pay attention but will also be fact-checked and edited and whose work will be included in publications/programs/platforms that reach a general audience rather than one that is seeking out information on the issue in question.

This is exactly what is happening when a group like the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund gives NPR a grant for “Three-year support for expanded international, national and local news and feature coverage on the impact of deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan on American military personnel and their families.” But that is a) not as accessibly transparent as some of us would like and b) benefits only one well-funded nonprofit and one media outlet. What I want is a pool from many organizations that would fund reporters from many different media.

Top video in nonprofit/activism this week on Youtube: highlights of Al Gore’s speech on climate change. Number of views as of this writing: 79,109

Number of people who watched 60 Minutes on CBS on July 20, 2008: 8.3 million people (from TV by the numbers)

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