Saturday, 19 May 2007

Charity

At the Charity Communications conference - the second such devised by AskCharity, Media Trust, and the Institute of Fundraising. Once again, I am sweeping up after Alistair Campbell.
The conference is an important venture. The place where charities and the media meet is rarely straightforward and full of misunderstandings. Journalists see many charities and their (unpaid) media volunteers as little more than providers of case studies to illustrate the stories they've already decided to tell. The charities see the media as an occasional ally but more frequent obstacle in getting the purity of their messages across to the public ... from whom, of course, they need cash.
I'm sad not to have heard Alistair ... but he needs no intermediary.

Three things: case studies, expectations of the media, the impact of social networking.

I'm a heretic on case studies. The conventional wisdom is that case studies are essential. The unquestioned assumption has it that most people only engage with a big idea through a personal narrative. Compelling character and narrative = engagement = impact.
And that's the problem. Compelling characters and narratives tend to be atypical. News is the atypical - 'plane crashes' is news, 'plane lands' isn't. But it's the landing not the crashing plane that tells the story of planes.
The best case studies tell only their own story. Just like good pictures .... which is fine if the case or the picture is the story. It usually isn't.
Journalist Victoria Wright told how it usually is. She contributed to a BBC documentary 'What are you staring at'. The programme needed someone with facial disfigurement to criticse plastic surgery; Victoria didn't do that ... at least, not in the bits of the interview that never made the cut. In the edit, she said enough that seemed critical for that to 'become' her view. She was a case study cut to fit the frame.
Katie Weitz of First Features - 'Earn BIG BUCKS by telling YOUR story' - thought the answer was copy approval ... and claimed editors were usually amenable to the idea. Um ... no editor I've ever met, but then I've led a sheltered life.

Expectations are difficult. By definition, everyone working for a charity believes in what they're doing ... and not all can always see that their beliefs and priorities aren't universal. The only realistic advice - have no expectation of the media. Journalism is about explaining the world as it is - or at least, as journalists see it.
Peter Gilheany of Geronimo Communications put it uncomfortably - charities are businesses. They're in the business of selling and marketing. One questioner believed the answer was to appeal to journalists as human beings. Another that journalism should 'help'.

Then the obvious question; 'will blogging and social networking be the end of journalism'. I guess something of Alistair in the question - the dream of unmediated communication. Aka, control.
Of course not, is the right answer. It's the one everyone gives.

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