Sunday, August 20, 2017

Can you Live without a Newspaper? Almost 9 out of 10 Canadians Say Yes

Could you live without a newspaper?

86% of Canadians say yes.

That information comes from a survey conducted in June by Abacus Data.

According to the survey, almost 9 out of 10 people in Canada say they’d be fine if their local newspaper went out of business—they’d still be able to get all the news and information they need.

If Canadians aren’t turning to newspapers for news, where are they going?


In another survey conducted by Abacus in 2016, they found that 21% of Canadians turn to Facebook first for news.

Altogether, a total of 41% of Canadians go online for breaking news, either to social media or a news website—not to print.
For people ages 18-29, that figure is 69%, with 43% turning to Facebook first.
It’s a generational thing, in other words. While 40% of those aged 60 and over read a printed newspaper each day that number falls to just 10% of those aged 18 to 29.
24% of people aged 18-29 never read a newspaper. 25% might check one once a month.
“If you want to get a story or opinion in front of a Canadian audience, you need to make sure you’re making it available to consumers in an attention-getting and engaging way on Facebook,” Abacus says, noting that 82% of Canadians use it to read news stories.
The challenge of Facebook is that the range of knowledge tends to narrow for people who use it as a main source of information.
As Abacus discovered, only 28% of younger Canadians report using Facebook to follow a broad range of topics. 51% pursue only what interests them.
Older age groups are more likely to keep up with a variety of topics.

With Facebook’s algorithms designed to cater news and information to each user’s unique interests, this means the likelihood of them encountering new ideas or stories is limited.

As Abacus put it: “The resulting reliance on Facebook as a primary source means users are getting a limited world view and a limited set of opinions that most closely match their own (confirmation bias).

“To get messages and stories to reach a wider untapped audience, organizations need to be creative with organic online activities and clever with paid online activities.”

(Interestingly, 19% of Facebook users say they follow charities on that platform, which is a good bit of news for non-profits. 10% say they follow religious organizations. The trick is how to get them to like and then share information sent to them.)

Many will lament this situation, but there’s no going back.

Says Abacus: “Offline breaking news sources are being eclipsed by digital news sources as generational disruption and widespread use of social media and mobile technology radically alters the news and information landscape.

“The change we are witnessing is moving so quickly that we anticipate within another five years, how Canadians consume news and information will look nothing like it did two decades before.

And you won’t find that in a newspaperif you can find a newspaper at all.

Facebook: Not Just for the Old, Younger People Like it Too

For some time it has been axiomatic to believe that Facebook is for old people—that youth have fled that social media platform for cooler ways of interacting.

It’s apparently not true.

Research by social media strategist Vincenzo Cosenza, as reported by Digiday, found that Facebook reaches the most 18- to 29-year-old U.S. users, with 86% of people in that age group using it.

That is followed by 71% who use YouTube, and 58% who use Instagram.

Twitter is next in line with 47% of that age group, and Snapchat follows with 45%.

For those who are in the 30-59 age group, 81% use Facebook, 52% use YouTube, 39% use Twitter and 31% use Instagram.

What about people 60-plus? 67% use Facebook, 25% YouTube, 16% Twitter, 7% Instagram.

(In Canada, 75% of 18-29 year-olds use Facebook, according to Abacus Data. for the 60-plus demographic, 49% check it daily.)

While use of the various platforms varies by demographic, one thing is the same across all ages: Facebook is dominant.

Facebook is the leader in 119 of 149 countries analyzed by Cosenza on his World Map of Social Networks. This includes Canada and the U.S.

What’s in second place in those two countries? In Canada, it’s Reddit. In the U.S., it’s Twitter.

In other words, it’s true what I wrote about before: Facebook is eating the world. 

And that includes younger people, too.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Is Movement Journalism an Answer for Social Justice & Change Groups?

I was talking to someone who works with Indigenous people about the challenges facing that group in Canada today—how it seems that all we tend to hear about them is bad news, things like suicides, crime, family breakdown, community dysfunction, etc.

Those aren’t the only stories, of course; there is lots of good news. But they can be hard to find in the media.

It was similar, we agreed, to what it’s like in the international relief and development world.

In that world, which I am most familiar with, there are lots of good stories in the developing world, but places like Africa only seem to make the news when there is disaster, starvation, war or corruption.

But what to do?

One initiative being undertaken by Journalists for Human Rights is training Indigenous reporters so they can pursue careers in media, as well as training non-Indigenous journalists to do a better job of reporting on Indigenous  people, culture and issues.

That’s a good thing but opportunities for journalists of any kind in the mainstream media are limited—simply not enough money to hire more people or have more beats.

At the same time, fewer and fewer Canadians turn to the mainstream media for their news.

But maybe there’s another way: Movement Journalism.

Earlier I wrote about Solutions Journalism, the kind of journalism where the media offer ideas for how to fix problems, not just report about them.

Movement Journalism is the kind of journalism directed and operated by people who are experiencing the problems the media writes about, living with the issues every day.

It seems to be a concept coined by Anna Simonton, an Atlanta-based freelance reporter and researcher for racial and economic justice nonprofit Project South.

She came up with idea after doing a year-long research project in the U.S. south.

Her report, called Out of Struggle, takes stock of the independent media landscape in the 13 states of the traditional south.

“We have good stuff that people are doing, [but] it’s very localized,” she told Nieman Lab. “How do we strengthen that and expand that impact?”

Her goal is to provide support and training to social and racial justice organizations, many of them serving minority groups, so they can do a better job of telling their own stories and promoting their issues. 

Simonton’s motivation for the research was the need for “more coverage of people who are taking action to change their lives for the better, more reporting that sheds light on the forces they are up against—how is oppression functioning, why do these problems exist, who is responsible for them.”

For her, Movement Journalism “is about realizing there are people who are trying to build collective power and organizing together to make fundamental shifts in the power dynamics of our society. That’s our priority in terms of coverage.”

Two media outlets she points to that are doing Movement Journalism are the Banyan Project in the U.S., and the Media Co-op in Canada.

Is Movement Journalism an answer for groups and issues that aren’t getting enough attention in the media?

Maybe. The challenge is not training people to tell stories—that can be done. People can be trained to spot a good story, do interviews, and write in news style.

The main challenge is getting anyone at all to pay attention.

In this media multi-verse, with so many online options, how can any group attract readers? Especially when research shows that people seem to be most interested in partisan political topics and stories with emotional triggers.

Maybe that's not the point. Maybe the point will be for people in those groups to see their stories being told, to hear their own voices for a change, and to be empowered by the experience.

If they also happen to catch the ear of those in power, or the general public who might lend a hand, that would be a bonus.

Thinking back to my conversation about Indigenous people in Canada, all I can think is that It might be worth a try. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Of Wetbutt, Sports Journalism and the Future of Communications

In Clay Shirky's seminal 2010 essay “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable” (the “unthinkable” being a world without newspapers—something not so unthinkable anymore), he wrote about the time in 1993 when the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain investigated the online piracy of a popular humour column.

They discovered the pirate was a teen in the Midwest who loved the column, and wanted to share them with others online.

Shirky quoted a newspaper editor who said of that experience: “When a 14 year-old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.”

That experience reported by Shirky came to mind for me after reading a column by Winnipeg Free Press sports reporter Paul Wiecek.

In the column, Wiecek wrote about how one of the biggest scoops of the 2017 Major League Baseball season (a trade between the Chicago Cubs and White Sox) came not from the traditional media, but from two members of Reddit.

“It was as close to a clean kill as you can get in the reporting business these days,” Wiecek wrote.

“A stunning trade that came out of the blue, with huge implications for both teams, and no one had even a sniff of it until two users on a subreddit devoted to White Sox gossip broke the story.”

Who was this intrepid reporting tandem? Reddit users KatyPerrysBootyHole and Wetbutt23.

As Wiecek wrote: “You can’t make this stuff up.”

When the Cubs President of Baseball Operations was asked a day after the trade whether he had any other big trades up his sleeve, he replied: "Ask Wetbutt."

“Welcome to 2017,” Wiecek wrote, where huge corporations like baseball teams can be scooped by social media users named  KatyPerrysBootyHole and Wetbutt23.

It’s a world, he wrote where “it’s not just that the old rules of sports journalism don’t apply—it’s that there aren’t any rules in the first place.”

While sports has always had "a guy who knows a guy whose brother is the assistant trainer," he added, “the game-changer in recent years was the evolution of the internet and the megaphone that it provided via social media.”

Now, that same guy “has a platform to distribute his information that is at least as powerful as the Fox Sports portal.”

For sports teams, which employ armies of PR and media relations people to control the message, and the media itself, which has seen itself as the main conduit of information about sport and most anything else in the world, this is now become an issue of “trying to control the uncontrollable.”

What does this mean for non-profits?

Unlike major league sports teams and corporations, we don’t have the resources to try to control the message (not that it is even possible these days).

Like the Chicago Cubs and Whitesox, we are just as susceptible to seeing news about our programs broken by people on social media (but hopefully with better monikers).

For international NGOs, this means that programs done far away are not so far away that someone can’t post a photo or post a comment about it—whether that’s a visitor or a local person.

This is a change from the past, when it was impossible for donors and others to learn anything about our work, unless we reported it—the costs, in terms of travel and access on the ground—were just too high for the average person.

But now anyone with a cell phone could share his or her observations with the world about a feeding program or development project—both good, and bad.

For domestic non-profits, this has been an issue for a longer time, if not forever. Someone unhappy with their meal at the homeless mission or service at the shelter could always go to the media.

The challenge always was to get the media’s attention, or hope the media had enough resources to want to tell the story.

Now those constraints are gone. Think the meal at the mission is slop? Up goes a photo and maybe it goes viral.

As Wiecek said, it is “trying to control the uncontrollable.”

When the “uncontrollable” is positive, it works in our favour. When it isn’t, well . . . that’s a problem.

Whatever it is, we are losing—maybe we have already lost—the ability to control the message. (Whether that was entirely a good thing is a debatable point.)

The question then is: How to respond? When the Wetbutts of the world have as much power and reach as the mainstream media (or more among the younger demographic), how do we communicate about our work and the people we serve?

I don’t have all the answers. Over the next few months, together with a colleague, I hope to find some ideas that might work. 

Or maybe just more questions.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

What Can the Media Learn From Churches?

What can newsrooms learn from churches?

If there ever was a title that was made for this Faith Page columnist and media junkie, that is it.

It appeared on an article by by Benjamin Mullin on the Poynter Institute earlier this month.

(It also reminded me of my earlier post about what the mainstream media might learn from church publications.)

In the article, Mullin notes that prior to the Internet and social media, the media didn’t need to innovate. Profits were strong and steady, so why change?

Today, however, the traditional business model for legacy media “has been gutted.” 

Advertising has declined precipitously, and circulation, viewers and listeners are decreasing across the board.

In response, the media has been casting around for an answer. The problem is, Mullin says, they keep asking each other how to get out of the fix they’re in. 

Problem is, none of them have an answer, either.

So what if instead of seeking answers in the same old places, the media looked elsewhere—like to churches and other membership organizations?

That’s what New York University professor Jay Rosen says they need to do.

“In the news industry, it's very common for managers, when confronted with something different, to say: ‘Who else is doing this?’” Rosen said. 

“But what they mean by ‘who else is doing this’ is, ‘who else in news?’ And, more specifically, ‘who else in our category?’

“They tend to look horizontally at their own kind.”

What they should do, he suggests, is look to churches, orchestras, activist organizations — to groups that have managed to build and keep devoted, paying followings.

To learn more, Rosen created that the Membership Puzzle Project, a
collaboration between the Dutch journalism platform de Correspondent and New York University. 

The aim of the project is to “gather knowledge about the most important question for the future of high quality, public-service journalism: How do we build a sustainable news organization that restores trust in journalism and moves readers to become paying members of an online community?”

Or, to put it another way, the Project wants to find out what makes membership programs successful.

Based on the success of de Correspondent, Rosen believes the membership model holds a lot of promise for news organizations.

And what is he learning so far?

Again, based on what’s happening at de Correspondent, he believes a key to success is for everyone in the newsroom to accept the principle of connecting with members and engaging with people as knowledgeable readers.

He also thinks it is important for the media to customers, but as people who are engaged in the creation of the news.

When people are engaged with journalism and they feel a part of it, a “strong bond” is created between members and journalists, he says.

At de Correspondent, a way this happens is that reporters are required to do weekly emails that explain what they're working on and the knowledge needs they have.

“They ask for help from the membership,” Rosen says. “And so they're constantly drawing information — knowledge, tips, contacts, links — from the members . . . they treat the members not just as financial supporters, but as a knowledge community.

What he’s trying to figure out is how to create “a more muscular notion of membership than simply, ‘Donate money to support this site?’ That has become our headlight observation.”

To come up with is more “muscular” model, Rosen intends to research a variety of membership organizations. Churches are of particular interest.

Reflecting on the Project, part of me wants to warn Rosen—churches aren’t doing as well as he thinks. Like the media, and every other group or organization, they are challenged by a greying and shrinking audience.

But I applaud him for looking beyond the usual places for answers. This is something I think all groups, organizations, faith groups, and the media should do.

What if we got the leaders from all those different groups in a room and invited them to work at the common challenges together? What kind of wisdom might arise?

Who knows—maybe the answer might be found in the place that is least suspected and expected.

And if it can’t be found—if there truly is no new model to replace all the models the Internet broke, to paraphrase Clay Shirky—then at least, at the end of the day, we can say we tried our best.  

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Cut the Jargon, and Other Tips for Sharing About International Development with the Public

The way most NGOs speak about the topic a “foreign language” to most people

“The public needs the bigger picture for aid to survive.”

That was the headline for an article on the website of Bond, an organization in Great Britain that works on behalf of international NGOs.

Written in June after that country’s general election, author Melissa Paramasivan said that British NGOs “should consider themselves lucky that their budget battleground wasn’t bloodier.”

Despite concerns that aid might be cut, “most parties pledged to keep the UK’s commitment 0.7% of GDP to aid,” she wrote.

But that doesn’t mean NGOs can rest, she added; aid has become a target for politicians, the media and those who call for more money to be spent at home—where an estimated 1.1 million Britons use food banks.

If NGOs want to preserve aid funding, then they need to help the public understand what the money is spent on—they need to do better communications, Paramasivan stated.

Unlike health, education or transport, “aid is not a service that you see or experience every day in the UK,” she wrote.

“This means communicators should be working even harder to tell us what the budget is being used for and how it relates to the wider work of the government, and the world.”

NGO communicators need to do the same thing as any other marketer: “Convince people that what you’re selling is worth parting money for.”

Currently, she went on, NGOs are doing a very poor job at that.

NGO communications tends to consist of “quarterly reports, riddled with jargon, written for a target audience already working in the sector, generally indigestible to the general public.”

It needs to change, she added, “otherwise the funding will.”

One way to do this is social media. But many NGOs aim their social media messages at specialists, not the generalists—the public, the people the politicians listen to.

“To borrow from business, aid used to be a Business to Business (B2B) model,” she wrote, noting how aid groups used to think all they needed to do was get money from the government and then report to them how they spent it.

But now, she said, “it’s a Business to Consumer model (B2C) driven by the growth of digital and social media. The public has an ever-increasing influence on how money is spent, especially when aid is brought into election campaigns.”

Now aid groups need to not just report back to government how they spent their money, but also to the public who makes that expenditure possible, she says.

So, what’s the solution for those who fear aid cuts? “Cut the jargon and stop underestimating people,” Paramasivan says.

International Development is a complex concept, she acknowledges. But the way most NGOs talk about it, “it’s a foreign language” for most people—and it doesn’t help that most of the discussion takes place in lecture halls and insider meetings, conferences and roundtables.

Communicators, she says, “need to share stories in easy-to-find arenas and with accessible messaging.”

She is quick to note that she isn’t advocating dumbing things down; “people understand a lot more than you think,” she stataes. “They just need to see where it fits into the bigger picture.”

Her suggestions for breaking “the cycle of introverted communications? Get practical. Invest in communications; it’s as important as monitoring and evaluation.”

“Strip back the jargon when pitching to journalists. There is every chance your story fits the global news agenda, don’t package it as ‘development news.’”

“Think about it as a conversation in the pub—you are telling an interesting topical story to a general audience. Leave the jargon for conferences.”

Use Facebook live, hackathons, twitter chat; “there are more and more ways to reach people than press releases.”

And don’t be surprised when your case study gets three likes, she says. Groups need to ask: Why should anyone read this story? How are we leading people to it? What’s their experience when they get there?

Sounds like good advice to me.

For more on this, see my post “When it Comes to International Development, Are We Nuts?” about the one question that NGOs may need to answer  above all others.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Megatrends for NGO Fundraisers, Marketers and Communicators

In April I organized a workshop with Christopher Bosch, Director of Strategy and Operations for World Vision. 

Through his work, Chris researches trends affecting that agency, and other church-related NGOs.

During the workshop, Chris spoke about megatrends affecting people who do fundraising, marketing and communications in the international relief and development sector.

Chris defined a megatrend as a “large-scale recognizable change to accepted norms or assumptions about how people organizations or governments will behave in the future.”

He went on to identify some megatrends NGOs need to be aware of.

The Philanthropy Environment Has Changed

World Vision has discovered it is more expensive to acquire a donor than before, and they leave more quickly.

These new donors are less attracted to long-term pledge-style giving. such as child sponsorship. 

At World Vision, support for child sponsorship—it’s hallmark product—is declining. People are no longer willing to make 3-5 year commitments.

New donors consider a donation an investment, and they want to see results.

They want to participate, not just donate. They hate it when someone says “trust us—we are the experts.” They want to be involved. We need to invite them into the discussion about how and what we do.

World Vision’s research into donors also shows that these new donors aren’t seeking a long-term relationship with a charity. The older cohort of donors want to "marry" a charity—be donors for life. 

But the new givers are more interested in a one-night stand: Give once this year, maybe next year. But no commitments beyond that.

Poverty Message Isn’t Connecting

Canadian NGOs talk a lot about poverty and helping the poor. But maybe that message doesn’t work anymore, Chris said. People have heard it forever, and maybe growing tired of it.

Chris suggested we might have more success talking about resiliency—the ability to withstand shocks and bounce back from disaster.

He said that people might understand this better than poverty, since the new generation of donors, unlike the older ones, have never experienced poverty or hardship. (e.g. the Great Depression.)

Although they can’t relate to poverty, these donors can relate to vulnerability, and the need for outside help to overcome challenges or disasters—things like the Fort McMurray wildfires, flooding or storms in various parts of the country, or just a personal loss.

Helping someone come back from a disaster, or being equipped to better withstand a shock, is more relatable than talking about poverty, Chris said. 

He asked: Should we brand ourselves as vulnerability reduction agencies, rather than anti-poverty organizations?

A Blending of Non-Profit and For-Profit Efforts is on the Rise

Chris indicated that a social enterprise approach to development is on the rise—corporations seeking to make a profit while helping the poor. 

NGOs could partner with businesses to help them do this well, maybe even take an equity stake in the enterprise.

He went on to say that corporate donors have two pockets. We mostly reach into charitable, or foundation, pocket. But that is becoming emptier. What about reaching into the one that is full—investment portfolios?

NGOs have not asked businesses to channel their investments into our work to get a return. This could be attractive to businesses, high net worth individuals, mutual funds, and insurance companies that want to do good in a business-like way.

Disruption & Disintermediation

He noted how new businesses like Arbnb, Uber, Amazon, Etsy, Crowdfunding have disrupted traditional businesses. Their genius is to bypass traditional ways of doing business by connecting people who want to supply something with people who need it (disintermediation).

NGOs are not safe from this kind of disruption and disintermediation. They can also be leaped over. The day is coming when people in Canada can connect directly to NGOs in the south—they won’t need us. Someone in Kenya with a smartphone could launch a crowdfunder to raise $1,000 for an enterprise—all he needs is 100 people giving $10 each.

Already, an organization called GiveDirectly is enabling people to give cash directly to the world’s poorest people. Its vision is to bypass traditional top-down NGOs, with all their costs of doing business, and give money directly to the poor.

Chris noted that NGOs are not universally loved like we used to be. There are some harsh critiques out there, like the book Dead Aid.

Other Trends

Other trends Chris noted include how the centre of NGO action is moving south (Oxfam is moving headquarters south.) And western governments are indicating they will require NGOs to have more southern partners for their work.

There is a vibrant southern church, and partners there are developing more expertise and capacity.

And there is more wealth being generated in countries that are middle income. NGOs might be able to raise money there and nourish local fundraising capacities.

At the same time, southern governments are becoming more critical of southern NGOs, wanting to see more western government money given directly to southern NGOs (instead of first passing through Canadian organizations).

Then there is the move to giving cash, instead of physical aid. Many NGOs are not technologically sophisticated to use cards and phones for e-transfers of money, nor have they developed good systems for tracking.

It’s a changing universe, in other words. (And we hardly touched on communications.) 

They may or may not prove 100% accurate, but NGOs (and other charities) ignore them at their peril—better to be planning ahead than caught unprepared.