Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

“for people to act, they must truly believe”: the charity message debate

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 14, 2009

How should charities, non-profits and NGOs get their message across?

It’s a question which has been passionately debated today, after Ben and David at the excellent DuckRabbit blog invited Pete Masters from Medecins Sans Frontiers UK web team to share the thinking behind a cinema ad, which to describe as hard-hitting, doesn’t even come close.

First, you have to see the ad:

See what I mean?

It is a short, simple and stungun method of storytelling: it sucks you in, and spits you out. Great. But does it actually get the MSF message out there? After all, where is this happening and why? You’ll no doubt have opinions on this, so make sure you share them with Duckrabbit.

They are just the small questions though, because Duckrabbit and MSF have inspired a far more significant debate: should charities be forking out for PR spin when they have real stories to tell?

You can argue after all, spending tens of thousands on a glossy ad is the media equivalent of paying “charity muggers” £10 an hour to harangue people in the  street.

I think the future lies in the aftermath of the revolution in journalism. It is already shedding jobs…and leaving scores of creative freelance journalists (many with multimedia skills) passionate about storytelling and passionate about social justice and fighting poverty.

Don’t think it’ll work? Lets look at some examples of journalists working for NGOs.

Weyo

Launched by two photojournalists in Virginia, Weyo brands itself as “storytellers to the non-profit world”. They’ve worked with the Edmarc Childrens Foundation and Physicians for Peace.  Founder Chris Tyree told the Resolve blog this week: “Nonprofits need us more than ever to tell their stories, and we have been able to attract people with not only great talent, but also great souls.”

WeyoPDN Online reckon this kind of work pays: “Weyo just finished one job that paid $10,000 for a 7-minute video and a Web site with “20-some” linked pages. Another recent job for a women’s shelter paid $15,000 for similar work.”

Chris Tyree: “for people to act, they must truly believe”.

Story 4

Born out of job losses at the Mercury News, Story 4 makes multimedia for non-profits from its base on the West Coast of the US. On their website they say: “We specialise in constructing vibrant visual stories. We partner with organisations to create rich multimedia content and collaborate to bring the clients mission and acheivements to life.”

David Walker in PDN Online says: “So far, Story4 has landed its present work and other projects by word of mouth. The company is currently finishing up post-production on a multimedia project for the Women’s Foundation of California.”

Duckrabbit

They sparked this debate today but they have also produced some stunning multimedia for charities, including Internews andthis piece on Sri Lanka:

There are others too, like Media Storm and the Bombay Flying Club.

At the heart of this lies the important question of how charities choose to spread their word. The public generally are now far less trusting of spin and PR. We want true stories, and we want them as gritty as the real world is. But we also want balance – and we recognise a third-world-cliche when we see it.

So to the non-profits of the world: who do you want to tell your story? A marketing firm, or a journalist?

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