Expert view: The namecheck - or the cause?

Charities often complain that they provide free research for journalists who then fail to mention the charity. But is it worth working with the media only in return for a namecheck?

A documentary maker recently contacted our website, www.askcharity.org.uk because it was making a series about twins. Action For Kids responded to say it was working with some identical twins who might be suitable, but wanted to clarify what might be in it for them.

The documentary maker could not promise that the charity would get a mention, so it withdrew.

With its limited resources, Action For Kids felt that helping the producer was only worth it if the programme would bring its work to a wider audience.

It's rare for this clash to occur at an early stage: a charity often assumes it will get a mention in return for helping out, and realises its error only when the programme or article appears. Even a written undertaking is no guarantee.

A charity dealing with homeless people in London agreed to have its work featured in a short film on volunteering, on condition that the charity would get at least one mention. Emails were exchanged, but shortly before transmission the producer said the mention was no longer possible - by which time it was too late for the charity to withdraw.

Both these examples are from TV, which works to BBC or Ofcom guidelines and is thus more restricted than the press in how it deals with charities.

But there seems to be little consistency in the way charities are mentioned, and little appreciation by journalists that a week finding and looking after a case study is wasted if the viewer has no idea which charity helped out.

Nevertheless, Vivienne Parry, who writes and broadcasts on health issues, is irritated by charities that appear to lose sight of the issues they champion. "Campaigning charities that measure their effectiveness solely in terms of a namecheck in the media should go back to their articles of association and remind themselves what they are really there for," she says.

If you do a favour for a journalist, by feeding them a story or giving them a case study 'no strings attached', they will be impressed. Enver Solomon, of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, spends hours on the phone giving background briefings to journalists. Much of the time he doesn't expect to see his organisation's name in the article. But he knows that when he wants to promote a story journalists will answer his calls and are likely to give him a namecheck. Nothing's ever guaranteed, but by being helpful he stores up a fund of goodwill.

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