The difference between NGOs and journalists

The balance between a journalist and a NGO is tricky. A journalist must always strive to be objective (though this is often not entirely possible) and definitely independent.

We had this discussion in class last night reflecting on our time spent with Hope of Life in Guatemala. In staying with the organization, many of the townspeople thought our journalism group was missionaries too. That doesn’t seem very independent.

American readers know (most likely) nothing about the organization. What they will know is what we choose to put in our stories. And our stories (should be) from a third party point of view, like a good journalistic story should be.

Some NGOs are choosing to eliminate the middle man (journalist) and do the reporting on their own. Charlie Beckett, who often writes that journalism should involve the public more, noted in his blog that charities want people to see these international places in the same way that they do. I think it’s great that they want to get the word out.

But this isn’t journalism. Beckett questions this practice:

“This is bad for the media and the NGOs as in the long-term both will lose credibility. The news media needs to learn how to use public participation without cheating, while the charities need to learn some media literacy and ethics.”

In class, we came to the conclusion that while Hope of Life wanted us to report in the way they saw it, we wanted to do the stories that we found. Hope of Life is a wonderful organization that does great work, but many organizations do great work. I’m documenting what I saw–not what I want people to think.


Filed under International Journalism

2 responses to “The difference between NGOs and journalists

  1. Thanks for the mention. Just to clarify. I have no problem with NGOs acting as journalists (reporting, publishing etc) as long as they are clear about who they are and offering sources, references etc
    Indeed, I think that NGOs should do MORE communications work, both in the countries they work in, and to their supporters and the public ‘back home’.
    One effective way is blogs like yours!
    Charlie Beckett

  2. Carlisle Johnson

    One difference between journalists and NGOs is that hopefully journalists are ultimately rewarded for telling the truth. Many NGOs, however, such as OXFAM America, Rights Action, NISGUA, Breaking the Silence etc. profit mightily from distorting the truth for fund-raising purposes, railing against mining, biofuels and other agents of change and progress in order to draw funds from First World donors unfamiliar with the reality of life here in Guatemala. I would welcome comment at

    Carlisle Johnson
    Good Morning Guatemala

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