OPINION: Learn to work with the media, not against it

Geraldine Peacock, chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

Whatever the facts behind "Gorgeous" George Galloway's recent travails, his past role as chief executive of War on Want featured in almost every news report.

Once again, the press has unleashed its stereotypical caricaturing on the voluntary sector. The attempts to link Galloway's current situation with his War on Want days, demonstrate the usual hackneyed stances. The first, through references to previous financial scrutiny of the charity in Galloway's time, is the inference that charities are poorly managed.

The second, is that those of us who work in the charity sector are unsung heroes and therefore are beyond reproach.

From the press viewpoint, if someone who works for a charity achieves something significant, they are accorded near-sainthood. Conversely, if someone who works for a charity misbehaves they are monsters preying on the vulnerable.

Charities have evolved to reflect and meet the needs of the modern world, but this often doesn't seem to fit with the media's view of society and, in the main, we often let it go unchallenged.

So what can we do? Well, the media is not going to come to us to find out what we do and how we do it, not when there are age-old assumptions to rely on. Instead, we need to take a more imaginative, proactive approach to involve journalists in a more meaningful way.

Recently, NCVO hosted a series of meetings for chairs and chief executives to discuss this issue. The mood was robust, with participants agreeing that we must not let the fragmentation and competitiveness within the sector prevent us from seizing the bull by the horns. But how?

Some suggestions included offering journalists an accurate and up-to-date overview of the sector and its work, being proactive with all news about the sector, involving "ambassadors" who can appear in the media as the public face of charities, and setting up job swaps which would see journalists and voluntary sector PRs develop a "hands-on" understanding of each other's work.

Finally, to show I am not just a middle-aged interferer, perhaps we should run an awards programme, giving recognition to journalists (and there are a growing number) who get it right. Anyone up for it?

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