NCVO chair calls for 'charity sector newsroom'

Martyn Lewis tells charity law conference it would come up with story ideas for the national press that would combat negative images of the charity sector

Martyn Lewis
Martyn Lewis

Martyn Lewis, chair of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, has said he wants to set up a "charity sector newsroom" to help change the negative portrayal of voluntary organisations in the media.

The former newsreader revealed his idea when speaking on a panel about transparency in the sector at the Directory of Social Change charity law conference in London today.

Lewis said the newsroom would be staffed by "ex-Fleet Street hacks" who would analyse the "turgid press releases" he said so many charities issued and come up with story ideas that could be passed to national newspapers.

He said it would employ journalists with contacts at tabloids such as the Daily Mirror, The Sun and the Daily Mail.

"I have been campaigning behind the scenes for some time to get better coverage of the voluntary sector in the national media," said Lewis. "Although I’ve argued for a better balance between the negative and the positive, I’m not actually getting anywhere with that because most editors, particularly at the national newspapers, want 90 per cent of their stories to be negative."

Last year, the NCVO commissioned a report on why the sector does not receive more positive coverage in the national media. At the time, Lewis said he was recommending to editors that reporters sent out to get negative stories should also find out what people or organisations were doing to tackle the problems represented by the negative headlines. These could then be included in the stories.

Lewis said today that he had since been told by a former tabloid newspaper editor that his approach, which he calls "solutions-based journalism", would never work because his newspaper would focus on charities only if there was a disaster, if the charity was supported by a celebrity who was prepared to tell a personal story, or in cases of "triumph over adversity".

"The charity sector is all about adversity," Lewis said. "If editors focused on charities’ triumphs over challenges, it would form an early-warning radar for politicians to become aware of problems in our society before they become national crises."

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