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Confronting the Coming World

A special Philanthropy411 blogging team covered last week’s Communications Network Fall 2013 Annual Conference in New Orleans. This is a guest post by Dan Brady, Communications Manager at the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers.  Follow along on Twitter – @givingforum.

During his plenary, David Simon of “The Wire” and “Treme” told a story about working in the Baltimore Sun newsroom at the advent of the internet. He described an editor telling writers how kids would “surf the web” and upon finding the Baltimore Sun’s website, they’d discover that they loved newspapers and start buying them.

The assumptions behind that business model for newspapers in the digital age were, of course, hopelessly flawed. Ken Auletta of The New Yorker echoed Simon’s take on the collapse of the newspaper industry saying, “Traditional media didn’t confront the coming world.” It failed to invest in engineers, web developers, and others who could provide the underpinning platform for the news outlets of the Twenty-first century.

dbradyThese comments got me thinking about how philanthropy takes change head-on. From the rise of digital culture to shifting demographics, our world is always changing. Foundations and the non-profits they support are at the forefront, trying to make sense of it all, finding new ways to navigate issues.

As communication professionals, our challenge is to develop messages that reflect and convey both the changing landscape and the good work being done to address the needs of those we serve. There are times that we get both wrong, like the editor in Simon’s tale, but philanthropy is uniquely positioned not only to get a birds-eye-view of an issue, but also to learn from our mistakes, correct our assumptions, and keep trying.

Simon encouraged us to “Tell the real.” We need to be able to find authentic stories to advance our missions and show how our organizations are investing in the solutions we need to confront the coming world.


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