An addendum to the previous post.
This comment from Ansel (a.k.a. @mediahacker, http://www.mediahacker.org/) is already making the rounds on twitter as “the comment of the year.” In the spirit of continuing a conversation, my brief thoughts in response. Ansel’s comment pasted in it’s entireity. My thoughts in italics:
In general, those are some fair points (not the same as saying that I agree 100%, but fair nonetheless).
Dear aid groups,
Do not invite us on one-day tours of your programs and expect them to be useful to us in any way. Do not bring out a single smiling hand-picked group of locals, who, of course, talk in gushing terms about everything you’ve done for them. You all do this constantly, and unfortunately, there are plenty of lazy journalists all too happy to be spoon-fed your bullshit.
J.: 1) Supply and demand. Get those lazy journalists you mention to stop being happy to be spoon-fed, and I’ll bet you an Heineken at the Port-au-Prince logs base that the happy propaganda goes away in relatively straightforward fashion.; 2) I don’t think I’ve ever been made aware of a journalist’s request for a longer than one-day tour. Usually it’s the opposite – they’re under deadlines to file 30 minutes from now and want soundbites.
We need to be able to come out to where you’re working unannounced and talk with you – your people in the field. Do not act like a corporation. You are not one. You’re not accountable to shareholders, you’re supposed to be accountable to the communities where you work and donors, who rely on journalists for information. Do not as policy refer us to your PIO spinmaster and refuse to talk to speak, on- or off-record. It’s highly suspicious.
J.: I suggest that you bone up on what, exactly, humanitarian accountability is. And… er.. when exactly did donors begin to rely on journalists for information? We report to our donors directly. Quite honestly this is a new one to me.
Let us talk to the supposed beneficiaries of your program, as well as local hires, without you hovering nearby. Go far far away until you can’t identify who’s talking with us.
J.: Go ahead. What’s stopping you? I frequently encounter journalists in the field talking to “my beneficiaries.”
As for the PIO spinmaster. Yep – I hear the frustration. Getting 5 meaningful minutes with an actual programs person must be very difficult. This is partially because our programs people are generally quite busy, uh, implementing programs. My advice would be to cultivate a good professional relationship with the PIO spinmasters over time, all the while asking specifically to speak with programs people (I’m a programs person and I speak to journalists often, on the record for my employer). Hang in there.
Do not send out press releases over and over simply listing off the sheer numbers of stuff you’ve distributed or have stocked in warehouses as if it indicates how much you’ve accomplished. Quality of life is not measured by those (nearly impossible to verify independently) numbers. One often has nothing to do with the other. More fodder for lazy journalists and crap that the serious ones have to swat away in search of something closer to truth.
J.: Totally agree. And we’re back to supply and demand. If you’ve been following this blog for very long you know that I am 100% in favor of more deeply educating the public (including the media) about what exactly it is that we do. But… when You (looking at New York Times, Huffington Post…) continue to give column inches to organizations like DAP who repeatedly make illogical demands for information that really isn’t useful information… well, that’s what get’s supplied.
The only way you will get us to stop pestering about how much money you’ve spent versus how much you raised to be completely open with your budget and how your projects/plans are funded. Do disclose your salaries and vacation packages.
J.: I do believe that day will come. Mostly. I’m honestly a bit baffled about the desire to know our salaries and benefits packages, though. a) US NGOs are already required to publish their form 990’s, so you at least know the salaries of the top execs. b) Really, what difference does it make? This is about impact, right? c) Why don’t you publish your salary? To the extent that journalists and aid workers both draw their salaries from the discretionary spending of “ordinary citizens”, and that we both supposedly perform services meant to serve the greater good, I’d say we’re both equally beholden to our donors (financial supporters, our shareholders, if you will). A little media transparency, please?
Do not try to get journalists kicked off mailing lists that contain meeting notes from clusters.
J.: Honestly, I’ve never heard of this happening. If this practice does exist (not saying you’re making it up), I’m with you – totally against it.
Do not always blame your problems on the government, while never speaking ill of any other NGO or the UN. Again, highly suspicious.
J.: Fair enough. Understand that not speaking ill of other aid providers is a tricky wicket for us. There’s definitely a “culture of nice” in the aid industry (drives me crazy). It’s also something of professional courtesy. Do you badmouth other journalists or outlets? C’mon – publish what you really think of the abyssmally shallow CNN coverage of Haiti, or FOX News in general…
Do not claim, every time, that you are “rushing” to provide aid, as if in a never-ending cycle of emergency, when you know that the pace of operations has not really changed. You are not necessarily “urgently” or “swiftly” doing anything if every time you do something it is “urgent” or “swift.” It’s all the same. You are filing the same paperwork, using the same staff, with the same supplies, only there’s a new problem to deal with…
J. To the first part, absolutely fair. Makes me a nuts, too, for what it’s worth. And again, if you’ve been following this blog for any time, you know that I would really love to see aid organizations and the Aid Industry overall really (REALLY) tell the straight-up total and honest truth about what we do and how we do it.
To the “it’s all the same” bit. Well, no, not really. My full-time day job is disaster response. Doesn’t mean, though, that each disaster is somehow not an emergency.
It’s late, I’ll stop there… Any answers?