How Your Nonprofit Can Talk Back to the Media


That’s the essence of Katherine Q. Seelye’s recent New York Times’ article on how use of websites and blogs enables news subjects to balance traditional journalism. Most of Seelye’s article details complaints about the way in which subjects of news articles and broadcasts are responding to media coverage of them. She writes that this practice “has led to a very uncivil discourse in which it seems to be O.K. to shout down, discredit, delegitimize and denigrate the people who are reporting stories and to pick at their methodology and ascribe motives to them that are often unfair.”

Hm. In the past errors or misrepresentation on the part of traditional journalists have been all too easy to pass off. Subjects had no means other than Letters to the Editor to set the record straight.

Sounds like Seelye forgets that all writers, editors and producers (including herself) have a slant which shapes every story they produce. After all, everybody has a perspective. That’s what moves us up the food chain. And that slant or perspective, can, if let loose, evolve into incorrect, or unfair and biased reporting.

News Subjects Fight Fire With Fire to Counter Inaccurate Coverage

In the article, Seelye introduces the artillery of subjects who are talking back. Armed with audio tapes of interviews, email exchanges and notes on conversations, they publish these proofs on their websites and blogs, and do their best to make sure that content is picked up by Google and other search engines. This practice, cautions Seelye, bears dangerous implications for the future of journalism.

Example:

Author Dave Eggers published a 10,000-word response (on his website) to what he considered to be the inappropriate tone of an article on his memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Eggers used his site to detail what was wrong with the article, backing up his response with email exchanges with article author David Kirkpatrick (who had requested that the emails remain private).

Bloggers Pinpointed as Major Threat

Despite the reach of website responses to media coverage, talking back via blogs has the potential for even greater impact. Seelye warns that the “power of blogs in exponential” as blog posts are available in perpetuity, at no cost, whereas newspaper articles are likely to be subsumed into pay-per-view article archives (like that of the Times). In addition, bloggers make it a practice to link to one another, further extending the reach of any post.

She points to blogger and former CNN anchor Rebecca MacKinnon who asserts, “If you’re one of a growing number of people with a blog, you now have a place where you can set the record straight.”

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