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Will Nonprofit News Coverage Really Suffer if the NYT Doesn’t Have a Philanthropy Beat Reporter? Probably Not

By on Wednesday, March 21, 2012

When the New York Times announced it was reassigning writer Stephanie Strom from the philanthropy and nonprofit beat to business coverage (and nixing the philanthropy beat), it drew attention from Chronicle of Philanthropy and consternation in the twitter-sphere.

The Chronicle opined it was: “a move that could make it harder for nonprofits to get their stories told to a national audience.” The Chronicle also noted that the New York Times was one of the last daily newspapers to employ a reporter to cover national nonprofits on a full-time basis.

But I’m not so sure that nonprofit news coverage is really going to suffer so badly because there is no reporter devoted to philanthropy at the New York Times.

Strom’s work on the philanthropy beat was certainly admirable. In 2012, she published about withering excitement on text message donations, Blackbaud offering to buy Convio, a profile of a billionaire helping rebuild Haiti, and the challenges facing MIT and Harvard when collaborating to build the Broad Institute. Not a lot for two months worth of coverage, but her editors at the NYT clearly needed her to help out with campaign coverage, as her byline pops up a lot with stories in that area too.

Missing from her coverage were some of the trending nonprofit stories of our day, including the Komen/Planned Parenthood tussle,  the layaway philanthropy phenomena where people were going to stores and paying off layaway accounts to help people in need, and the Second Mile charity that was embroiled in the Sandusky scandal. While the New York Times covered all of those stories, it used other reporters to write them.

One could argue that it’s far better for nonprofit news to be spread across the newsroom with multiple reporters and popping up in several reporting beats, than to be pigeonholed with only one reporter. Just this week, J.  David Goodman published an interesting story in the New York Times on the lessons nonprofits are learning from the Kony 2012 video.

So how many “national nonprofits” really got coverage written by Stephanie Strom in the New York Times? Not that many. Looking back at 2011, here’s what Strom actually wrote about on the philanthropy beat:

The actual nonprofits mentioned in 2011 by Strom on the New York Times philanthropy beat (with very minor mentions included) were:

  • Acorn – controversial group wins nonprofit status (May)
  • Alliance Defense Fund – pastors take on politics (September)
  • Alliance of Polish Clubs in the USA – IRS revokes nonprofit status for 275,000 (June)
  • American Bar Association – charitable tax abuse (February), IRS drops audits (July)
  • American Cancer Society Foundation  – charitable giving on the rise (June)
  • American Himalayan Foundation – “Three Cups of Tea” memoir controversy (April)
  • American Hospital Association – Congress asks IRS about oversight of hospitals (October)
  • American Independent News Network – philanthropists require management training (July)
  • American Red Cross – Japan disaster aid (March), GiveBackMail (May),  charitable giving on the rise (June)
  • Americans for Prosperity – political activity by nonprofits (April)
  • Ashoka – Google philanthropy (January)
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – Wal-Mart names new foundation head (October), philanthropic giving (November), foundations buy stocks (November)
  • California Collaborative – Louisville confronts obesity (June)
  • CARE – virtual care packages (March)
  • Cash for Critters – Pepsi Refresh contest controversy (January)
  • Center for American Progress – hedge fund chief takes role in philanthropy (September)
  • Center for the Next Generation – hedge fund chief takes role in philanthropy (September)
  • Center on Philanthropy – famine gets few donations (August)
  • Central Asia Institute – “Three Cups of Tea” memoir controversy (April)
  • Children Now – hedge fund chief takes role in philanthropy (September)
  • Citizen Schools -Google philanthropy (January)
  • Common Sense Media – hedge fund chief takes role in philanthropy (September)
  • Community Catalyst – Congress asks IRS about oversight of hospitals (October)
  • Conservation Northwest – GiveBackMail (May)
  • Cornell University – science school (December)
  • Crossroads GPS – political activity by nonprofits (April), IRS drops audits (July), IRS denies nonprofit status (July)
  • David & Lucille Packard Foundation – foundations buy stocks (November)
  • Democratic Leadership Council – IRS denies nonprofit status (July)
  • Direct Relief International – California scrutinizes nonprofits (August)
  • Do Something – charity goes mobile to involve teens (June)
  • East Palo Alto Community Law Project – hedge fund chief takes role in philanthropy (September)
  • Ecotrust – foundations buy stocks (November)
  • Emerge America – IRS denies nonprofit status (July)
  • Emerge California – IRS denies nonprofit status (July)
  • Emerge Maine – IRS denies nonprofit status (July)
  • Emerge Massachusetss – IRS denies nonprofit status (July)
  • Emerge Nevada – IRS denies nonprofit status (July)
  • Endeavor Global Inc. – philanthropists require management training (July)
  • Feeding America – charity goes mobile to involve teens (June)
  • Ford Foundation – hedge fund chief takes role in philanthropy (September), philanthropic giving (November)
  • Found Animals Foundation – philanthropic giving (November)
  • Friends Seminary School – bonds (January)
  • Girl Scouts – bell ringers go digital (November)
  • Giving USA Foundation – charitable giving on the rise (June), philanthropic giving (November)
  • Global Giving – Japan disaster aid (March)
  • Guardian Angel Feline Rescue – Pepsi Refresh contest controversy (January)
  • HFZ Charitable Supporting Organization of Santa Barbara/Dove Center – charitable tax abuse (February)
  • Independent Sector – foundations buy stocks (November)
  • Indiana University –  charitable giving on the rise (June)
  • InStedd – Google philanthropy (January)
  • International Community Foundation – California scrutinizes nonprofits (August)
  • International Medical Corps – Japan disaster aid (March)
  • Jewish Care – nonprofits going out of business due to mission completion (April)
  • John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation – foundations buy stocks (November)
  • John S. and James L. Knight Foundation – charity goes mobile to involve teens (June)
  • KaBoom! – charitable giving on the rise (June)
  • Kaiser Family Foundation – hedge fund chief takes role in philanthropy (September)
  • Kaiser Foundation Hospitals – California scrutinizes nonprofits (August)
  • Kanye West Foundation – closure (April)
  • Kids in Distressed Situations – Japan disaster aid (March)
  • Kiva -GiveBackMail (May)
  • Kritter Kountry – Pepsi Refresh contest controversy (January)
  • Landesa – Google philanthropy (January), philanthropists require management training (July)
  • Living Word Christian Center – pastors take on politics (September)
  • Malaria No More – nonprofits out of business due to mission completion (April)
  • Management Center – philanthropists require management training (July)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology – donation with tax questions (April)
  • Mercy Corps – famine gets few donations (August)
  • Meyer Foundation – philanthropists require management training (July)
  • National Association of State Charity Officials – Congress asks IRS about oversight of hospitals (October)
  • National Council on Nonprofits – IRS revokes nonprofit status for 275,000 (June)
  • Nonprofit Finance Fund – philanthropic giving (November)
  • Omidyar Network – philanthropists require management training (July), foundations buy stocks (November)
  • Operation Smile – failed merger (February, March)
  • Otto Schiff Housing Association – nonprofits going out of business due to mission completion (April)
  • Out2Play – nonprofits going out of business due to mission completion (April)
  • Oxfam America – famine gets few donations (August)
  • Pasadena Roving Archers – IRS revokes nonprofit status for 275,000 (June)
  • Phoenix Industrial Development Agency – bonds (January)
  • Planned Parenthood – bonds (January)
  • Presbyterian Community Center – Louisville confronts obesity (June)
  • Priorities USA Action – political activity by nonprofits (April), IRS drops audits (July)
  • Project Veritas – controversial group wins nonprofit status (May)
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – Louisville confronts obesity (June)
  • Rockefeller Foundation – philanthropic giving (November)
  • Salvation Army – lawsuit (April), bell ringers go digital (November)
  • Save the Children – Japan earthquake aid (March)
  • Seva Foundation – Google philanthropy (January)
  • Silicon Valley Community Foundation – philanthropic giving (November)
  • Skyline Church – pastors take on politics (September)
  • Smile Train – failed merger (February, March)
  • Social Finance – philanthropic giving (November)
  • Soros Open Society Foundation – leadership change (December)
  • St. Peter Claver Community Garden – Louisville confronts obesity (June)
  • Stanford University – California scrutinizes nonprofits (August), couple donates $150 million (November)
  • Three Ring Ranch – Pepsi Refresh contest controversy (January)
  • Thrive Foundation for Youth – couple donates $150 million (November)
  • Unicef – Google philanthropy (January)
  • United States Fund for Unicef – famine gets few donations (August)
  • Urban Institute – IRS revokes nonprofit status for 275,000 (June)
  • Wal-Mart Foundation – Wal-Mart names new foundation head (September)
  • Water Advocates – nonprofits going out of business due to mission completion (April)
  • William and Flora Hewlett Foundation – California scrutinizes nonprofits (August)
  • World Jewish Relief – nonprofits going out of business due to mission completion (April)
  • World Vision International – California scrutinizes nonprofits (August)
  • YMCA of Greater Louisville – Louisville confronts obesity (June)

Should the nonprofit world be lamenting Stephanie Strom’s reassignment to the business beat? No. We should rejoice to see a reporter on the business beat who understands the nonprofit world. I’ve heard Robert Egger and other nonprofit leaders talk about seeing nonprofits as businesses, and it’s time for nonprofits to accept their role in this sector and ask for media coverage. We should not just be asking for human interest stories with the features editor. If our nonprofits serve particular niche audiences or industries, we should pitch coverage ideas to reporters covering those areas. We should also be pursuing stories that look at the multi-billion dollar nonprofit sector as a legitimate entity in its own right from the business desk.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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