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:
- NGOs as newsmakers: A new series on the evolving news ecosystem
- Kimberly Abbott: Working together, NGOs and journalists can create stronger international reporting
- Simon Cottle and David Nolan: How the media’s codes and rules influence the ways NGOs work
- Natalie Fenton: Has the Internet changed how NGOs work with established media? Not enough
- Saving us from noise that kills: NGOs as news coordinators in a networked public sphere
- Bringing NGO news into the mainstream: The case of OneWorld.net and Yahoo News
- Glenda Cooper: When lines between NGO and news organization blur
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.