The Role of the Media in Non-Profit Organizations

During our staff meeting this past Thursday, the role that the media plays in organizations was brought up as part of our ghU track. We were asked to debate whether or not getting the media involved was worth any potential fallout that could occur. At first, most of us thought, “Why not?” It’s become clear that in today’s society, news channels and social networks define us, and it’s often difficult to gain a large enough following and attention to certain causes, especially when it concerns non-profits, without somehow implementing these channels in some way, shape, or form. After splitting into two groups to present arguments for both sides as part of a scenario where we were part of an organization that had to decide whether or not to get the media involved, we all had to think past the superficial questions we were already asking ourselves. Throughout the debate, two solid arguments were presented. Considering how media connects everyone together, the proponents decided that it was necessary to have media involved, whether it would be through the news, interviews, or social networks, if we ever wanted to gain enough attention to our cause. On the other hand, the opponents decided that media wasn’t worth using due to the fact that news stations are, essentially, still businesses looking to bring in the highest number of views possible. Unfortunately, information can often be manipulated in order to make this possible at the expense of the organization. Undoubtedly, both sides were able to relate their point of views with the famous KONY 2012 Campaign.

At the very start, the KONY 2012 campaign had all the makings of just how well media was capitalized upon. Through Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of coverage, the 30-minute video quickly became one of the most viral videos of the year. Considering the purpose of it was to reach out to as many people as possible in terms of spreading awareness, the campaign was an initial success. However, just as quickly as the video spread through the internet came the scrutiny placed upon the organization that created the video, Invisible Children. Critics noted the organization’s handling of funds and scrutinized the legitimacy of the organization as a whole.

In our debate, proponents of the media remarked on how the KONY campaign was only a success due to its reliance on media. Without it, the cause wouldn’t have been brought to the attention of people all around the world. The other group countered with the fact that news channels will distort facts in order to bring in the highest ratings possible and this could be extremely damaging to the organization. It was proposed that instead of having any media networks involved, it would be in the interest of our organization to handle its own media and essentially, keep control over every aspect.  Along the way, questions were continually brought up by both sides: Since it’s operated like a business, wouldn’t the media know best how to reach as many people as possible? Wouldn’t there be miscommunication along the way even though you’re handling the media yourself? As an organization, are you just trying to reach out to everyone in any way possible or is it better to reach a small amount and yet, have these people fully understand our goals and mission?

After a lengthy deliberation, in the end it was decided that a partnership with media was the way we would go, although not without caution. Deciding to use channels that will quickly spread information is a double-edged sword. It can either push your organization into the spotlight or lead to its demise. It’s a lesson to be learned, and one that will have to be understood early on and quickly, although it became apparent during our meeting, that it’s something that can’t be decided upon without much reflection and consideration.

Karen Lin
External Director of Communications


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