The role of media in society and the sector
"Fake News!" Today the media can be blamed for many of our woes, whichever side of the political spectrum you sit.
Whether it is Donald Trump or Brexiteers who see the broadsheet newspapers and public sector broadcasters as a liberal conspiracy cooking up fake news. Or, the left wing view that the same newspapers, broadcasters, and a few added tabloids (probably correct here!) have a Tory bias, and that the journalists are foot soldiers of their billionaire tycoon owners.
Maybe there is some truth in both but we can’t afford to pretend a free press doesn’t exist or hide away from difficult questions and stories we don’t like. And do we really understand the everyday working practices of the media and journalists in particular?
I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephen Cotterill, editor of Fundraising Magazine, recently at the IoF Suppliers Forum, about the changing role of the media in our society and also in the sector. It has transformed considerably over the last few years – very much driven by social media and instant, free online news with facts and more facts at our fingertips.
Digital has disrupted the media industry. Far fewer people buy newspapers and magazines now, and the rates and salaries for journalists are much lower than they were ten years ago. There is increased competition from bloggers, people writing for free, as well as from clickbait and sponsored content. But, according to Jeremy Paxman, we should value a good journalist as someone who is prepared ask who, what, why, where and when.
As we spend more time in our social media funnels with like-minded people, hearing and seeing things we generally agree with, something does ring true about us being in a bubble. So we do need these, although sometimes annoying, ever curious journalists, who look to get under the skin of a story, or press release, and uncover whether there is a bigger issue at stake. Even a sector or trade press should be there to challenge and interrogate.
I want to be clear that I don’t see cheap lurid tabloids as pillars of good journalism but we should try and understand them and – deep breath – talk to them.
Stephen in his most recent column highlights a desperate need for media training in the sector and for us to understand “how a journalist thinks; what they want; and how to react in a crisis”.
He advised developing a relationship with the media, and said that “other than lying, silence is the worst response to a media storm, because it gives editors the licence to fill column inches with whatever they think is the truth”.
The sector is facing intense media scrutiny like never before – from the breaking of the Olive Cooke story to the recent safeguarding issues.
This is not just going to go away. We need to be prepared to handle future scrutiny as it arises. We can all look back and see that we could have done something differently and we all can learn from this. But, going forward, we should be more equipped, informed and confident in our handling of the media.
Individual Members of the IoF get a free monthly copy of Fundraising Magazine as a benefit, as well as unlimited access to the civilsociety.co.uk website.