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‘Tis the Season…of Feel-Good Media Stories

December 23, 2007

(Tricia McKenna is vice president of Louder Than Words, a Boston-based PR agency serving foundations, nonprofits, and related businesses. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Holiday stories about those in need and the organizations that serve them proliferate at this time of year. Just as there's nothing wrong with people writing checks to charities during the holidays (whether to support a cause, take advantage of a tax break, or both), there's nothing inherently wrong with these stories. But it begs the question -- what about the rest of the year?

I think stories about people on the frontlines of creating social change are sorely underrepresented in the media. We saw a nice uptick in media's coverage of philanthropy after the Buffet gift made headlines in ’06, and of course there are journalists like Stephanie Strom and Sally Beatty doing great service to the sector day in and day out. The mainstream media, however, has a long way to go.

That’s why I was pleased to see that MSNBC has partnered with Contribute magazine to beef up its Giving section. Outsourcing some of the heavy lifting is a great way to provide better content to MSNBC’s community without stretching existing news resources too thin.

The ratio of nonprofit reporters to business reporters may never match that of nonprofits to businesses, though surely big media could do better. It's a chicken-and-egg situation: Nonprofits and foundations need to expect that more coverage will require they provide more access and accept more scrutiny in exchange.

Let's hope 2008 brings more stories that showcase the triumphs and challenges of philanthropic entities and nonprofits -- and inspire others to give and get involved!

-- Tricia McKenna

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Tricia,
You hit the nail on the head with the question, "what about the rest of the year?". Like anything else, news lines can hit the waves, grab the attention of the majority but only stick with a few. Much like the holiday, there is a cultural custom of giving. It's what we know and do at this time of the year. Likewise with storylines of natural disasters, the knee-jerk reaction is to help, give. After time and the big story has settled, many go back to doing what they normally do day in and day out. This notion isn't anything new. It takes a continuation of story lines, news to get people to do different - because they learn that a need is still prevelant.


It may take your industry and experts like yourself to continue educating and informing the media partners, nonprofit sector and foundations perhaps through an 'media campaign' that runs for so many months and has an educational slant to its language. Just a thought here, but more like a topical series of writing, interviewing, blogging, etc...

Over the past few months, buzz about the very topic your broach, has appeard on blogs such as this one and others that are similar. This is great, but it's like a closed conversation among those of us in the field of philanthropy who already know this.

While I am not a media/pr expert, the idea I am putting out there could be a large task. Nevertheless, the important aspect of it is educating those we would like to see do different. That takes time, a reason for them to change doing what they do, and asking the bigger question, "Why?"

I think you/your industry is ideal for taking the lead on this.:) Then capturing case studies from foundation, nonprofit and media leaders who have had great success stories and then using that as an education tool for the rest.

I am not about 'big-fast-hard' pushes or periodic posts that fade away to promote change - I don't think that has a lasting effect. Slower, methodical, approaches that embrace inclusiveness and purpose are more sustainable.

While it's true that national media often overlooks stories that focus on philanthropy and the work of non-profits, local media is often an excellent source of coverage. Organizations doing good work in a specific city or region can benefit tremendously by forming relationships with local reporters, bloggers and radio personalities, and feeding them story ideas throughout the year - not just during the holidays.

Leyla Farah,
Cause+Effect - Public Relations with a Purpose

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