Friday, March 27, 2009

Staying Positive Might Be Hard, But It's Not Impossible

With the bombardment of bad news, I thought this piece by Daniel Stone from Newsweek was a great pick-me-up. Even when it's really hard to find the silver-lining in what seems like a black hole of bad news, you can still do it, and you should--if only to keep yourself sane.

Stone, who went on what he calls "a cool scavenger hunt" to "find the lost graveyard of good news," notes that there are the wallowers (those who "soak up the latest unemployment statistics the day they come out") and the deniers (those who "turn their heads, choosing to immerse themselves in the "Back to the Future" trilogy or scrapbooking , turning off the news altogether").

But through his quest to find the silver lining, he found that it's possible even in the worst of situations and it's necessary:

But psychologically speaking, it turns out that trying to see the positive in such a negative environment isn't that bad, so long as you do for the right reasons and don't become an outright Denier of reality. According to psychologist Steven Hayes, author of the book "Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life," it's fine if you're looking at the positive just for the sake of learning something positive. "But if you're only looking for the good in order to keep the wolf at bay, then your mind will constantly be thinking about the wolf, and you don't really escape. It all comes down to your level of psychological flexibility." Some people need to keep up on the bad news so they feel prepared, or maybe more in control. It can be a way to brace yourself for even worse news, says University of Florida psychologist James Shepperd. But in most cases, the human tendency is to lean toward optimism, in hopes of a better day.

Read through the whole thing and maybe you'll find your own silver lining.

Non-Profit Newspapers

The Associated Press reported earlier this week about a bill proposed by Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md. that would allow newspapers to choose tax-exempt status. Given that newspapers are dropping like flies (with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News among some of them), this could be an alternative route to keep American journalism alive and well.

I approached this topic over a year ago when it was clear that circulation numbers were steadily dropping for some of the country's most renowned papers. Now with Sen. Cardin's proposal, perhaps this model of journalism will be here sooner than thought.

It's already been a successful approach for the St. Petersburg Times, PBS and NPR.

However, with nonprofits struggling in this economy, will nonprofit newspapers be just another branch within the sector doing it's best to tread the water?

The Associated Press also reported on this a few weeks ago noting some of the concerns of those within the journalism industry:

Several newspaper executives this month launched a public-relations campaign to counter what they call "gloom-and-doom" reports of the industry's demise.

Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, said in an online exchange with readers recently that the nonprofit model has serious downsides, including conditions placed by funders. He added that endowments are no insulation against economic hard times.

On a more practical level, skeptics question whether the millions and millions of dollars needed to create such endowments could be raised during the worst recession in decades.

The proposal mentions that newspapers could operate as nonprofits if they choose to do so and Cardin notes that it is meant to preserve local newspapers and not large newspaper conglomerates. This nonprofit status would also mean no more political endorsements, which was something that never sat well with me to begin with.

With this said, it is good to keep in mind that this approach might not be the best for all newspapers but it could work for some. It's clear though that it's being considered more seriously than it was a year ago.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Update: Beyond Good Intentions

Shortly after my previous post about Beyond Good Intentions, founder Tori Hogan responded to the email I had sent to her with some more detailed answers. I thought it would be best to share a little bit of what she wrote.

Hogan first came up with the idea after her frustrations with her own work in international aid made her realize that she either had to quit or find ways to improve the system. While Beyond Good Intentions was originally meant to be a book, she notes that circumstances, including a run in with Al Gore who stressed the importance of reaching out to an audience visually, led her to turn to film instead.

This is an important understanding as the world becomes more visual and interactive. Social media and the Internet have made it almost a necessity for companies, organizations and even media outlets to engage their audience beyond simple text and Web pages. Don't get me wrong--the written word will always be of great significance (I wouldn't have been a journalism major if I didn't truly believe this) but when it comes to really getting a message across visual aids have the tendency to be much more compelling. Especially in regards to international conflicts and issues that need world attention. I can read about a child in Sudan who has been orphaned and living in a refugee camp and think, "How awful!" but seeing it first hand tugs at the heartstrings with a bit more vigor.

Film also works as a better medium for this type of project because it really gets the dialogue going by seeing and hearing individuals talk about their approaches in different episodes. Reading this in one lump sum, while extremely interesting and valuable, just might not get the conversation flowing as easily.

Hogan had even originally intended to make the film feature-length but changed her mind:
Originally the film was going to be feature-length. But I began to realize that to make an impact, I needed young people to be watching it. I wanted to get a dialogue about aid started among the rising generation of changemakers and we decided that short formate on-line "episodes" would be a much more effective way to reach them.

Again, delivering the issue all at once might be effective, but it might not be the most effective method of starting a dialogue.

Hogan told me via email that the episodes will also be available via YouTube and that she is open to embracing outlets beyond the organization's Web site. She did not mention if anything is currently in the works or of any outlets she'd like to reach out to. Regardless, spreading the project will be a better route to go in order to reach maximum impact.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Beyond Good Intentions

Nonprofits are in constant need of communicating the importance and urgency of their organization and this is mostly reflected in how effective the nonprofit is. Donors want to know how their dollars are being used, how the organization is being innovative and what type of results are being brought forth.

When I came across Beyond Good Intentions, I was impressed by the extensive and in-depth attempt to answer what is effective and what is not. Founded by Tori Hogan in Cambridge, MA, Beyond Good Intentions is a nonprofit that attempts to answer "What really works in international aid?" through film.

I contacted Hogan via email in February to get some more details about the organization and its film series but unfortunately have not received a response. Since I feel like this is a really important idea that's being explored, I figured I'd share what details I do have.

Documenting Hogan's efforts to travel to ten different countries over a year of filming, the series is set to launch on April 1 with ten five-minute episodes which will be aired on the Web site each week. During her travels she interviewed 63 organizations in order to look at the innovative and effective approaches to international aid.

What is notable is the range of organizations, countries and issues that she and her team were able to cover. Everything from small non-profits to large multi-national institutions that spanned from North America to South America to Africa to Southeast Asia were examined. The team covered a wide variety of issues as well, including HIV/AIDS, unemployment, education and health among many others. But the main focus was on the approaches to solving these social problems which is perhaps the bigger issue.

As far as I can tell, the only outlet that Hogan plans to display her work is through the Beyond Good Intentions Web site. I feel this may limit the reach that her work could potentially have and was curious to know her reasoning behind this.

Despite that, the series will be a great contribution to the nonprofit world as it struggles to stay afloat during these hard economic times.

Check out the trailer: