Tristan Blythe: Read all about it - the press, charities and ethics

02 Mar 2020 Voices

More charities are examining their wider impact and taking an ethical approach.

If you know a lot about a subject then you will often find coverage of it in the general media wanting. There may be inaccuracies, unfounded assumptions or any other number of elements to take issue with.

The journalist writing the story can often not be blamed. They are working across a range of topics and, while they do research the story in question, they do not have the time to gain in-depth specialist knowledge. Working to tight deadlines means they have to be ready to turn their hand to another topic as soon as possible.

On top of this there is the old adage that “bad news sells.” This can mean that your specialist topic often only appears in newspapers, in print or online, in a negative light.

The problem is that while a particular topic may be your specialist area, you will be in the minority, and even if readers don’t pay too much attention to the details, the general tone will inform their views on the topic.

Those with charities as their specialist subject will have become increasingly familiar with this situation.

Gone are the days when “do-gooders” (to borrow a tabloid term) were above criticism from the press. Stories, such as those covering military charities’ reserves that appeared towards the end of 2019, won’t please the sector as they do not present the nuanced reality, usually for the reasons listed above.

Needing to adapt to a more hostile mainstream media environment is something that the charity sector is not alone in.

However, sometimes negative coverage is justified, as it uncovers wrongdoing or a lapse in the standards expected.

Here again, the charity sector is not immune. Whatever you feel about how the stories were handled, recent years have seen a number of scandals about charity’s practices rightly exposed.

Like it or not, the public expect charities to behave in a way that is beyond reproach, in all that they do. It is no longer good enough to simply behave well in working on their cause. Charities must consider the ethics of all their actions, from supply chains to the treatment of staff and beyond.

The good news is that there are plenty of positive stories of charities doing just that. This edition we highlight some of these and provide some pointers for organisations that are considering their wider impact. All of these positive actions will help improve the perception of the sector.

Tristan Blythe is editor of Charity Finance

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