NGOs and Journalism: Nieman Journalism Lab Explores the Blurry Lines of NGO-Produced Journalism

In early 2009, the think tank POLIS together with Oxfam published a report warning that international coverage is likely to decrease under the new public service broadcasting regime being worked out in the U.K. And in 2008, the U.K. tabloid the Daily Mirror said as part of the latest round of job cuts they were abolishing the post of foreign editor altogether. Meanwhile, citizen journalists and NGOs have been rushing to fill the gap. The mainstream media, getting free filmed reports and words, often sees this as a win-win situation. This raises three key issues:

  • Do these new entrants to humanitarian reporting mean that we are seeing more diverse stories being told and more diverse voices being heard? Does the fundamental logic of reporting change?
  • Are viewers/readers aware of the potential blurring of the lines between aid agencies and the media when NGOs act as reporters?
  • How are aid agencies being affected by citizen journalists acting increasingly as watchdogs?

-Glenda Cooper in When lines between NGO and news organization blur

The Nieman Journalism Lab has recently been publishing an intriguing series of articles exploring the relationship between the media, NGOs, and journalists, especially as more and more international and investigative journalism is produced, funded, and distributed initially or in cooperation with NGOs and charities. There’s much to read here, and I’ve only just started, but it’s a necessary conversation to have as news organizations drop foreign and investigative bureaus and turn to advocacy organizations for reporting. Be sure to check out all the articles:

This is a touchy subject, because of the moral ambiguities inherent in partnerships between NGOs (which generally advocate particular agendas/causes) and journalists or journalism organizations (which strive for editorial independence and objectivity). In the past few years mainstream NGOs have been producing some stellar work. Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) has been producing strong photography, for instance, and VII recently partnered with the International Committee of the Red Cross for a compelling global documentary effort. A Developing Story chronicles more journalism produced by NGOs. Ultimately, I think the responsibility for journalistically-sound reporting funded by NGOs will rest on the shoulders of the journalists working with the NGOs, who must make sure that their reporting is a truthful representation of the subject being reported according to long-established rules of journalism ethics.

6 Responses to “NGOs and Journalism: Nieman Journalism Lab Explores the Blurry Lines of NGO-Produced Journalism”

  1. Justin Vela

    Thanks for posting these links Scott.

  2. Justin Vela

    Remember you mentioning in Nanjing working with some organizations. NGOs are often helpful but in August I did a story on human trafficking in India that an NGO helped so much with that I almost felt I was working for them. Unlike some NGOs that, aggressively, demanded promotion b4 assisting(didn’t continue w/ these) this one did not, were incredibly helpful. What came out of the experience was that when looking at the reasons why I wanted to do the story, I almost would have preferred working for the NGO. The magazine has romance and I loved writing the narrative style article, but it won’t be published until March and with room for only a fraction of what I researched. The NGO is focusing on creating more media itself, blogs multimedia etc and as it progresses will become more of its own outlet/resource for the issues it works with, certainly surpassing traditional media with the quality of ready info it offers to the public. Essentially, the better outlet to work for and what is researched will go further and can also be published in traditional media usually. The neutral connotation of the word ‘journalist’ is important, but reporter, investigator, researcher…no matter the medium…it’s obvious people need to be thinking like that…

    • duckrabbitblog


      some great points and I think that you’re spot on … NGO’s do need to learn how to get their messages out more effectively.

  3. Changing Ideas: Getting photographers and NGOs on the same page | dvafoto

    […] photographers to develop communications strategies for the organizations. As we’ve mentioned previously photographers working with NGOs is relatively new and unexplored terrain. As NGOs fill the gap left […]

  4. How should journalists cover humanitarian aid agencies? | dvafoto

    […] or even work directly for, humanitarian aid agencies. I’ve written in the past about the Nieman Journalism Lab’s efforts to discover exactly how journalists and NGOs navigate the murk… between journalism and propaganda and PR and fundraising and reportage. It’s a question that […]

Comments are closed.