Opinion: Third Voice - Media should try give and take, not take and take

Monica Kimche

I was interested to read the Third Voice by Penelope Gibbs (Third Sector, 15 June) about how charity and the media make uncertain bedfellows and some charities are hostile to the media. I confess to sympathy to both sides of this question.

We have a wonderful relationship with the Leicester Mercury, which has housed and nurtured us since our inception in January 2000. We plan our PR campaign with it at the beginning of each year, and it could not be more supportive or generous with its coverage of our stories.

However, in my previous role as the director of fundraising and communications at the national families charity Home-Start, we had, in the main, very negative experiences when trying to place stories with the broadsheet papers. They would often appear to take up a story, so our press officer would arrange a number of interviews with families or volunteers, only to find that the paper did not go with it after all. The result was negative for all involved.

On the other hand, whenever anyone in the media wanted a family under stress with children under five, they would contact us and expect us to be waiting to supply them with appropriate people 'off the shelf'.

The assumption (mostly among the nationals) that charities have nothing better to do than act as suppliers of people to represent whatever cause is in the story without due consideration for the needs, confidentiality and sensitivities of the client group, is probably the root cause of the sort of reaction Penelope encountered in her research. When you have had your time wasted for the third time, you might decide that charging the media for your help is a good idea, and start insisting that, because there could be a lack of sensitivity to the client, there is always someone with them during an interview.

The attitude of journalists when they wanted something would always annoy us - everything was about their deadlines, and they always insisted on having things "right now or tomorrow morning", often bringing stress to at least six people.

The relationship between charities and the media should be symbiotic.

I hope the example of the Leicester Mercury and Leicestershire Cares is a good one. A greater understanding of the needs on both sides, with appropriate training, would go a long way towards addressing this.

- Monica Kimche is director of Leicestershire Cares, which brings business and the community together for mutual benefit.

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