Long, long ago in the pre-Twitter, pre-Faceback age, circa 2000, I was studying the way NGOs communicated about the Battle in Seattle WTO protests when I noticed that these non-profit organizations were providing what was in essence news, that they were in fact becoming a new type of news provider. But it was virtually impossible to convince anyone that outfits other than newspapers or television stations would one day be complements, partners or perhaps even rivals to corporate news organizations.
I even appeared on a couple of panels to talk about some of my preliminary research:
- In the NGO News Sphere (full paper below), which I presented at the Global Fusion conference in St. Louis in 2004, I identified Electronic Iraq’s portal as a new form of journalism that relied on a network of information being shared by NGOs and other entities, noting embodied both modernist values of professionalization but also incorporated a postmodern form of personalized storytelling that together formed a hybrid cultural product: post-profit public goods journalism.
- In “NGOs as News Providers” (full paper below) presented at the International Communication Association conference in New York in 2005, I compared three NGOs (Electronic Iraq, Global Exchange and OneWorld) and found that they were not simply reprinting mainstream news stories but were in fact offering their own original information. And what they were producing was not always following mainstream news values. For example, my analysis of sources they used in their “news” reports revealed that One World and Electronic Iraq frequently quoted what might be called non-traditional sources such as citizens and other NGOs, rather than replicating the mainstream media’s pattern of relying mainly on governmental officials/politicians.
But five years ago, the idea that news was expanding beyond the hands of its historic gatekeepers was still difficult for people to get their heads around. One critic even told me that I was wrong because NGOs are “a joke.”
So it was to my surprise yesterday that someone pointed me to Harvard’s Nieman Labs which, working with the University of Pennsylvania, has produced a series of essays about their groundbreaking new research on — you guessed it! — NGOs as news providers. And if the comments I skimmed are any sign, some people still don’t get it.
Nevertheless, now that the idea has the seal of approval from two Ivy League institutions, I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more about the intersections of NGOs and international news.