Over the years, I’ve seen a variety of nonprofits who monitor media outlets in a narrow way – essentially, to gauge how often their organization is covered. It’s a worthwhile exercise, no doubt. But is “counting press clips” really enough to help your organization enact social change?
Imagine that there was a giant database out there that could tell you how often your key issues were discussed. Not only that – it could also reveal the vocabulary surrounding your issue and the context in which it is addressed among your key target audiences.
It should come as no surprise that – when analyzed in the right way – traditional and social media coverage can do exactly that. So the question is: why do so many nonprofits examine only media coverage of their organization, instead of their broader issues?
Dramatic, often surprising, results can be collected when you use media as a barometer of social change. For example, our firm, DG+CO, recently completed a major media analysis to help Planned Parenthood Global understand the conversation around reproductive rights and health in four developing countries: Burkina Faso, Nicaragua, Senegal, and Uganda. These are countries that battle extremely high rates of child mortality and teen pregnancy, coupled with significant barriers to quality information and care.
By examining media coverage with a rigorous, academic-style approach – we could effectively turn the news into numbers and establish hard statistics that indicate how well Planned Parenthood Global’s issues are currently understood. Such an understanding will help to shape the language that Planned Parenthood Global uses in its outreach campaigns and help the organization determine how much progress it has made in the years to come.
Likewise, DG+CO also partnered with Internews Europe on an in-depth investigation of the current quality and quantity of media coverage on child rights in India, Kenya, and Brazil. Our study – which is fully available online – found that across all countries and media platforms, there was virtually no media content produced by youths. This exposed a huge void in the truth and authenticity of how media cover children’s issues, which Internews Europe can now work to specifically address.
This kind of analytical foundation goes beyond the typical realm of public relations. And yet, it underscores how important it is for anyone involved in communications or advocacy to better understand the role media outlets play in shaping public debate and popular opinion.
News You Can Use
Here are four quick tips to help you start tracking your issues in the news, rather than just your name:
Establish Your Keywords
Identify a set of keywords related to your organization’s big issues. Be choosy –only include keywords that reflect your organization’s top priorities. Then, use your media database of choice to examine how often media outlets cover these issues. Look at both current and historical coverage – and record the trends. And add this data point to your regular analytics reports.
Sample & Survey
Every month, select 10 sample stories around your key issues. Better yet, use an online randomizer or handy RAND function in Excel to make it a random sample. Divide up the stories and assign them to your staff.
Each staff member should record the main topic of the story, the main actors and organizations described, who’s quoted, and the overall framing of the piece. Also include a strategic question. For example: if your organization aims to promote cardiac health – ask staff to answer a big picture question like, “Overall, was this story helpful or harmful to our cause?” Or, “Was the story aligned or opposed to our agenda?”
Staff can input their data in a simple survey questionnaire (SurveyMonkey is, obviously, a great tool for this). This will allow you to provide quantitative analysis to what would otherwise be very subjective questions.
Take It From the Experts
Don’t have time for the two steps described above? A quicker (but much less informative) approach is to use Google Trends for a high level overview of the number of news stories about your key issues since 2004. Through the “Explore” feature, you can also see geographical hot spots.
Broaden Your Alerts
Most organizations already have Google Alerts and/or media monitoring alerts set up for any news coverage of themselves. Try adding issue keywords into that mix. Monitor hashtags and keywords that relate to your issue area. You’ll be the first to know about big news in your field.
If this is a topic your organization would like to explore further, take a look at the NTEN proposal that we’ve posted for consideration. Together with representatives from Planned Parenthood Global and Internews Europe, we’ll discuss media analysis in international contexts. We’ll present the basic building blocks of this kind of research and show how it can be used to decipher media coverage across linguistic, political, and cultural barriers.
This type of research requires combining new and old technologies in unexpected ways, and it requires communications and program staff to collaborate creatively. But most of all, it requires people who are willing to think about media coverage in a new and – I think – transformative way.