Skip Navigation

Features

The Revolution Will Be TweetedDung Hoang

The Revolution Will Be Tweeted (continued)

There’s Still a Place for Skepticism

In the eternal quest for attention and support, many NGOs emphasize the positive and trumpet success rather than acknowledge nuance and the messy complexity of real life.

Missing from this mission-driven media is journalism’s skeptical filter. Reporters seek out more than one side of a story and report on failures in the belief that it’s as worthwhile to learn what doesn’t work as much as what does.

“I am very happy to write about success [but] I’m just concerned that within global health we should not assume that all is always for the best, just because our intentions are good,” says Sarah Boseley, a Guardian editor who runs its global health blog. “I think journalists should approach everything with a critical eye and seek more than one point of view, if there is such.”

She adds: “I think if we only ever write the upbeat and positive stories, we will cease to be believed, because life is not like that.”

Indeed, as traditional media and its skeptical oversight has pulled back, communicators within NGOs, agencies and other organizations need to ensure their leaders stay honest in their messages, says Dick Thompson, a former Time magazine correspondent and communications advisor to the WHO director-general.

Leaders need to realize that credibility is their most important resource, says Thompson, now a senior advisor to the Pulitzer Center. And internal communications teams should be responsible for reining in claims that could endanger the organization’s reputation. He adds: “People responsible for communications [within organizations] have to be very aggressive and sometimes have difficult relations with people in their programs.”

Communications have to be clear transparent, and fundamentally honest… . Once you have the public’s trust, you can really do a lot.—Dick Thompson, former advisor to the WHO director-general

For Best Results, Mix Media

The profusion of communication channels has made it much harder for any organization to hold readers’ and viewers’ attention—this is especially true for programs advocating behavior change. Susan Krenn, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, says things were simpler when she started at CCP in 1985. Then, CCP teams could put their behavior change messages on a country’s single television station or one of its few radio stations and be assured of a significant audience. (Often, they could barter for airtime with a box of sorely needed new video or audio tapes.) Now, they must deal with dozens of channels and stations, as well as investing in social media and other efforts.

Still, she believes that today’s tools are pretty amazing. By tying mobile health efforts with traditional media, CCP can achieve powerful synergies in disseminating their message. For example, in Tanzania, they used an ongoing family planning mass media campaign to promote a text message service that dispensed information on family planning methods, services, etc. They increased the number of hits on the service’s website from 5,000 to 100,000 per month.

By harnessing old and new media, her team was able to tame the chaos and maximize the opportunity.If it’s not talked about, it’s taboo. If you can get it out in the open, you can really start addressing these social issues.—Susan Krenn, director, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs

Comments

* = required field

Read about our policy on comments to magazine articles.

design element
Online Extras

Beyond Bikini Science

Beyond Bikini Science

A band of scientists is expanding the scope of women's health.

Watch Now

Talk to Us

Amazed? Enthralled? Disappointed? We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts on articles and your ideas for new stories:

Download the PDF

Get a copy of all Feature articles in PDF format. Read stories offline, optimized for printing.

Download Now (3.2MB)