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December 2, 2015

From #GivingTuesday to #GivingNewsDay

By Molly de Aguiar and Josh Stearns

Today is Giving Tuesday, which has become a juggernaut in philanthropy raising $46 million for thousands of charities in under 24 hours last year.

Image by Molly de Aguiar

That is a 63 percent increase over 2013. This comes at a time when charitable giving is on the rise generally. According to Charity Navigator, “This is the fifth straight year that giving has increased and the first year to surpass the previous high-water mark of $355.17 billion seen in 2007.”

Giving Tuesday is an important hook for end of year fundraising, but it is at its heart a marketing effort designed to leverage social media and strategic partnerships to encourage a culture of giving.

Nonprofit news needs just such an effort, but on Giving Tuesday journalism organizations are nearly invisible.

Why People Don’t Give to the News

This year, Giving Tuesday coincides with the theatrical release of Spotlight, which is being roundly celebrated as not only a great film, but also a reminder of the critical role watchdog journalism plays in our society. What if we could use the momentum from that film — together with the model of Giving Tuesday — to help start a national conversation between journalists and communities, and invite people to participate in helping support the next generation of great local news?

The nonprofit journalism sector has grown significantly in recent years. The Institute for Nonprofit News boasts more than 100 members and that is just a fraction of the community media organizations that dot the media landscape. However, that expansion comes at a time when we are more and more news grazers, with less affinity for specific brands. In addition, most people still do not see journalism as a charitable activity.

The organizations that benefit most from Giving Tuesday are human services, medical research and international affairs. Media and journalism doesn’t even show up on the list. All of “arts and culture” together only accounts for 2% of Giving Tuesday donations.

People give to human services because it is the ultimate spirit of the season to help the less fortunate. They support global issues for similar reasons but also to feel like a part of something bigger; it is more of a political donation, like putting a stake in the ground for what they believe in. Donations to medical research are often driven by a personal experience, related to a condition that has affected them and/or family. These are really obvious, compelling reasons to give.

Journalism is not personal for people in these ways. They don’t see its impact on their lives. When they donate to a food pantry, they don’t also think to support journalists covering hunger and homelessness. When they donate to conservation groups, they don’t also think to support environmental reporting.

That is our problem, not theirs, and it goes beyond just a marketing issue.

News organizations have to do better at showing how their work intersects with people’s lives, but they also have to do better journalism that is actually rooted in meeting community needs and representing the diversity of our nation. We can’t comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable if we don’t build common cause with our communities.

Giving is a Two-Way Street

In a recent conversation, David Bornstein of the Solutions Journalism Network suggested playing off of the Giving Tuesday name and creating something called #GivingNewsDay.

Image by JJ Mustang_79 via Flickr

What if #GivingNewsDay was about both people giving to news, but also about what news gives back to communities. It could be less about fundraising — though that would be a component of it — and more about a day of service. How might journalists get creative about physically going into the community, partnering with local organizations, facilitating conversation around issues, listening to the public, and using all of that to fuel better coverage that communities feel more invested in?

Like Giving Tuesday, #GivingNewsDay could include toolkits for marketing and promotion but also a menu of ideas for ways people can support news of all kinds. This could build on Melody Kramer’s work regarding alternative membership models rooted in community participation. Kramer suggests that journalists should open their doors to the public and make newsrooms places where communities can gather, share and connect. In place of financial contributions people could contribute time, energy, expertise, and other non-monetary resources. Drawing on Kramer’s ideas, actions could include:

  • Helping translate important stories into other languages
  • Sharing stories from the past year that had an impact on you
  • Donating code, participating in a hackathon or volunteering at an event.
  • Giving a gift subscription to a friend, local library or school

But #GivingNewsDay should be about creative ways newsrooms can open themselves up and connect service, community and journalism as well. News organization could collaborate with local organizations to help people support issues they care about and illustrate the linkages between journalism and civic issues. A few places are trying this:

  • New England Public Radio has partnered with donors and the local food bank for a “Feed Your Radio, Feed a Family” campaign where donations to the station are matched with meals donated to the food bank.
  • During Giving Tuesday this year, Guardian US is “donating all advertising inventory on its site on Dec. 1 to six nonprofit organizations focusing on providing relief for those affected by the global refugee crisis.”

Other ideas might include:

  • Hosting an editorial meeting at the local coffee shop, and listening to the issues that people are most worried or curious about. Then committing to covering some of those stories and returning to discuss them again after publication.
  • Organizing a community meal with a discussion around food insecurity, which would lead to follow up, in-depth coverage of the issue.
  • Sponsoring a park clean-up day which would include a discussion about how journalism can better cover and help solve local environmental issues.
  • Creating a community timeline with the local library, where people can share their memories of local landmarks and weave those together with stories from newsroom archives.

Obviously, a day of service is only a starting point. And to really begin to rebuild trust and engender new kinds of long-term support for local news, service to community has to be a core part of a newsroom’s mission year-round. There is a growing set of examples of creative and meaningful engagement strategies from newsrooms like the Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica that could be put into action during a day like this (and hopefully continued throughout the year).

In this way, #GivingNewsDay could become as much about raising money as it is about building community around the news.

Disclosure: In 2012, the same year Giving Tuesday was launched, there was an ad-hoc end of year journalism giving campaign called #Give4News (created by Josh Stearns, one of the authors). The goal was to get people to make their giving more public and make the case for why people should consider including journalism in their end of year giving. #Give4News was envisioned as a crowdsourced pledge drive for the Internet age.