Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

Condescending Coverage

Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

Condescending Coverage

Article excerpt

Newspapers do a poor job of reporting on the nonprofit sector

In 2004, Robert Egger, the noted activist and founder of the DC. Central Kitchen, groused to an audience at Georgetown University: "The nonprofit sector generates $13 billion at least in revenues a year. Yet the best you get in all the media is the Washington Business Journal's "Good Deeds" section, which reports [that] the proceeds from the spaghetti dinner helped poor kids in Southeast [DC.]"

He's right, says Matthew Hale, a professor in the department of public and healthcare administration at Seton Hall University. With several graduate students, Hale examined how newspapers portrayed the nonprofit sector for six months in 2003. He found that although the coverage was copious, it was mosdy superficial.

"Most stories just give nonprofits a pat on the back, as if to say, 'Look at this cute nonprofit raising money for those poor crippled children," says Hale. "You would expect this from television, but you would have thought that newspapers would give more depth and context about the role of the nonprofit sector in America."

Hale and his team analyzed 1,034 newspaper articles from nine major newspapers, including The New York Times, USA Today, and The Wall. Street Journal. The researchers noted such factors as where the stories took place (local, state, national, or international), whether the stories focused on a few organizations or the nonprofit sector as a whole, and whether the organizations were the main characters or bit players in the stories. Their report appears in the September 2007 issue of the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly.

Using this analysis, Hale writes: "The media tell us to think about nonprofits as local organizations that hold fundraising events.... Although [they] generally portray them in a positive light, they often portray them out of the spotlight altogether. …

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