In 2014, Sir Martyn Lewis, chairman of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, announced his intention to launch a newsroom for the charity sector. It would be staffed by national newspaper journalists who would come up with story ideas to pitch to the press that would combat negative portrayals of charities in the media, he said.
But by mid-2015, Lewis was saying it would be a better use of money for the NCVO to hire a person to do the job instead, so last October it recruited former radio producer Giselle Green on a 12-month contract in the newly created role of media network coordinator.
Green, who will focus on generating positive stories about charities' cause areas - as opposed to sector-wide issues such as chief executive pay - is working on a project called Constructive Voices, intended to encourage journalists to incorporate a solutions-based approach in their coverage of social issues.
"Constructive journalism means that journalists give the audience a more comprehensive look at an issue so that they not only analyse the problems but also try to explore potential solutions," she says. Green believes that this type of journalism could give charities more opportunities to get their voices heard because journalists would seek their perspective on the issues they were covering.
But won't charities have their own press contacts? "Some will, but there might also be a huge number who don't necessarily have those contacts or the expertise to pitch their stories proactively or responsively to news that is breaking," she says. "I'm sure there are also huge numbers of journalists who don't think of getting information from a charity or who wouldn't know where to get it."
Green intends to form relationships with journalists and introduce them to charities that are doing work in areas of interest to them. She also plans to alert charities to breaking news stories on which they might capitalise to secure better coverage of their organisations and causes.
A significant benefit of this project for charities, she says, is the mounting evidence that exposure to constructive news - whether about charities or any other subject - is more likely to encourage people to donate to charity or take some other kind of positive action.
"There is also a lot of evidence that constructive news is good news for news organisations," adds Green. The evidence she refers to includes a study conducted by the University of Texas, which found that US adults who were given news articles containing potential solutions to the problems reported had an increased desire to share what they read and to seek out other articles covering stories in a similar manner. Another study carried out by the BBC World Service found that 64 per cent of people aged under 35 said they wanted news that provided solutions to problems, rather than news that merely informed them about issues.
Getting the message across
So how does she intend to persuade journalists to change their reporting habits? "I will be making the point that there is a strong business case for news organisations to think about taking this approach," she says. "If they understand that audiences prefer and are more likely to stick with those who use this approach, they will realise it's in their interest. I've spoken to some journalists about this already and they think it would be useful."
Green acknowledges that the lack of a constructive news agenda at the Daily Mail - which was ranked in last year's National Readership Survey as the most-read newspaper in the UK and was also responsible for the bulk of the negative coverage of charities in 2015 - does not appear to have caused its readers to eschew it. But she says that although people read the Mail's stories, they are less likely to share them if their nature or tone is negative.
Over the coming year, Green says, she expects the project to evolve further. An advisory board has been formed, she says, made up of charity professionals and journalists who will act as advisers and advocates of the initiative. "There is definitely a market for these types of constructive stories," she says. "We want to ensure that charities are in a position to benefit from it."