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Foundations Need to Make Themselves More Central to Philanthropy Beat Coverage

Just had a good news/bad news experience – quite literally.  I was invited to listen to a panel earlier today that featured several journalists and bloggers talking to other journalists and bloggers about how to step up their philanthropy beat coverage during these tumultuous economic times. 

The good news is that there’s interest in philanthropy and that those who cover the topic either routinely or as part of other things they write about are looking for tips, guidance sources, types of stories, facts, figures, etc.

The bad news: few foundations were mentioned during the 90-minute gathering either as primary story topics or as sources for leads. Instead, the interest mostly zeroed in on identifying notable nonprofits, and how they are likely to fare in the days ahead — will they be forced to merge or will they go out of business? — as well as what kind of role the Obama administration is expected to play in funneling public dollars to organizations on the forefront of delivering social services in communities.

To his credit, Tactical Philathropy’s Sean Stannard-Stockton, a panelist, mentioned several foundations he follows, and why. In addition, he handed out a reprint of a nearly three-year-old Chronicle of Philanthropy op-ed that I co-authored, along with Grant Oliphant, chair emeritus of the Network and president of the Pittsburgh Foundation, arguing media coverage of foundations was falling far short.  We pointed out in the piece that while generally favorable, most coverage of foundations rarely went beyond the number and size of grants, and failed to look at the bigger story of what foundations are accomplishing or trying to.

It’s almost three years later.  Why is it still so difficult for many foundations — except the largest — to be seen as worthy stories, or more than funders of their grantees?  What can we do to increase coverage and “encourage” philanthropy beat reporters to actually write more about foundations?  It’s not that we haven’t been trying, and not that we won’t continue, but how do we be seen and heard by more journalists out there looking for good stories?  I’m sure there are some great examples of where these efforts to increase coverage are working, and some great stories about foundations are being told.  If so, let’s see how others can benefit from what’s being learned, and which strategies and tactics are the most effective.

Let’s get a discussion going.

–Bruce Trachtenberg

Photo of Newspaper Stands from Will Hybrid on – used with gratitude under a Creative Commons license — click for terms.


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