OPINION: THINKPIECE - Preparation is key to getting media on side

Caroline Diehl, chief executive of the Media Trust

Geraldine Peacock's column two weeks ago had a great headline, "Learn to work with the media, not against it", but I can't really agree with all of the content (Third Sector, 14 May).

There is an assumption that in order to achieve positive media coverage for charities, we need to cosy up to journalists and to rely on their goodwill rather than their editorial judgment. But actually we need to improve our communications skills, our transparency and our accountability. We need to work hard to create a story, as any other organisation in the public or private sector does. And we need to compete for that story, often against each other.

There is a feeling among some charities that journalists have a fundamental hostility to our work. But UK media coverage of domestic charities is widespread and generally positive. Buy a selection of local and national papers and magazines this week, cut out all the charity stories and I'll bet that the majority, across all papers, are positive.

Recently tabloids and local papers on the right and left gave generous and widespread coverage to Adult Learners Week, Autism Awareness Week and Christian Aid Week. They were not following an objective news-led agenda, but responding to a charity-generated agenda, and positively.

Similarly the broadcast media is interested in and generous to domestic charities, and rightly so. We provide it with a wealth of human-interest stories, new voices, research and campaigns that over generations have made our history and our laws.

If the sometimes questionable management of the funds and resources of a few charities is put under the media spotlight, that is arguably in the interest of the rest of the sector. I for one don't want charities to be immune to media scrutiny.

And as for practical ways to improve the sector's communications skills, there are many not-for-profit organisations providing low-cost and pro-bono communications advice, training and media contacts. Examples are the Media Trust, CSV Media, Mental Health Media, Presswise, the Community Media Association and a host of other organisations. There are also quite a few awards out there already for socially aware journalists, but we could consider another. Come and talk to us.

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