NGO Media Forum 2012

Stories that matter in a changing media landscape

The 2012 NGO Media Forum was held jointly by ACOSS and the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism at UTS on Wednesday 28th March. Thank you to everyone who attended and followed on Twitter, it was a great success!

The forum brought together award winning journalists such as Suzanne Smith (ABC), Trent Dalton (Courier Mail), Adele Horin (SMH), and The Punch Editor David Penberthy, with media academics and researchers (Wendy Bacon and Tom Morton from ACIJ), and over one-hundred working media professionals from Australia’s community not-for-profit sector.

Organiser, Fernando de Freitas, Media Coordinator with ACOSS, said this year’s event titled, Stories that matter in a changing media landscape focused on key issues currently affecting the media and communications work of Australia’s not-for-profit sector as we learn and struggle to adapt to a new media environment in our quest to get our stories told and find novel ways to tell our own narratives.

The second part of the forum focused on effective campaigning and how shared campaigns are becoming the trend because they are stronger and have more clout, but require careful managing and committed shared interest to be successful

It proved to be an extremely stimulating day with enormous professional development insights for both journalists and media and communications professionals working in the community and wider not-for-profit sector.

Overview of the ACOSS 2012 NGO Media Forum

Introduction and Panel 1

The first session of the 2012 NGO Media Forum began with Wendy Bacon’s introduction to the day, The changing media landscape: new journalism, democracy and civil society “How is innovation changing journalism practice and traditional models, and what will both look like in the future? How can the new tools, spaces and models be used to maximise and diffuse storytelling; shed light on decision making; keep power-holders to account; and strengthen civil society and Australian democracy?” Wendy also discussed the recent media inquiry and the implications for the community not-for-profit sector.

The introduction was followed by the day’s first pannel discussion featuring Garry Linnell (National Editor, Metro Media, Fairfax Media), David Higgins (Innovations Editor, News Limited), Christopher Zinn (Director Campaigns & Communications, CHOICE) Marni Cordell (Editor and Publisher, New Matilda) and Wendy Bacon (Professor of Journalism, University of Technology Sydney, based at the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism).

The pannel discussed the issues raised in the opening speech and also looked at the relationship between journalists and the NFP sector, how they are evolving, and what opportunities there are for the sector in the changing media environment.

Stories that make people care

  • If resources are strictly limited at media companies, and tools for publishing and distribution are at their cheapest level in history, one must ask: Can NGOs become publishing organisations in their roles as advocating for the disadvantaged? Why rely on the established media when NGO’s can begin crafting pieces themselves?
  • Journalists often favour the personal and humanised perspective and hence want to put them forward in their stories, rather than including an NGO’s voice. The hard and genuine life stories of disadvantage that our sector is trying to give voice to are extremely effective. Accordingly, a thoroughly communicated story is a well-executed story. It can just be harder to pull off.
  • Organisations must remember to incorporate strong messages that will resonate with your audience but never ‘dumb down’ the story. More often than not, we are dealing with intricate issues and the individual’s whose stories we need to tell are complicated and placed in complex situations. While this is a difficult balance to achieve, there are lot of great examples to look to for inspiration.
  • Panellists encouraged organisations to integrate them online and encourage the discussion. Admittedly, they also added that it will rapidly grow and will be difficult to manage, but with clear and well defined policies, this can be beneficial in growing interest and involving the wider public.

Links mentioned by panellists:

Collaboration: Let’s Work Together

  • Panellists speaking in this session generally emphasised that one must carefully define the organisational aims for using the media.
  • EMC mentioned that although it may seem obvious, once it is practised, it will lead to more purposeful and effective use of platforms, communication styles and language. Thus it is crucial for close collaboration between organisations and stronger, more flexible practices in this dynamic media environment.
  • Organisations were encouraged to form coalitions but were also reminded not be held back by them. Organisations must be agile in telling their stories, which need to be published early and reiterated continually through campaign development. Grass roots stories are integral to sector collaboration success stories. Thus there is a need for an open collaborative communication space for the sector.
  • Organisations must utilise social platforms to enable suppressed voices, as well as have a coalition voice and an individual organisational voice. It can be difficult to coordinate the message and focus on the 90% agreement rather than the 10% disagreement.

Links mentioned during the session

For more information contact Fernando de Freitas on [email protected] or 02 9319 6209.


Time Session Presenter Summary
9:00 – 9:20 Welcome Fernando de FreitasMedia Media & Communications Coordinator, Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS)

Tom Morton

Director, Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ) & Associate Professor Journalism, UTS Sydney.

Setting the scene: Where the Fourth Estate and the Third Sector intersect

Brief introduction by Fernando and Tom setting the scene for the topics to be covered throughout the day. The rapidly transforming media landscape – how it is changing traditional journalism practise; the opportunities for the journalism profession and the community sector; and the contribution educational institutions such as UTS and peak bodies like ACOSS can make to truth telling.

9:20 – 9:45 Opening speaker Wendy BaconProfessor of Journalism at UTS based at the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism

The changing media landscape: new journalism, democracy, and civil society

How is innovation changing journalism practise and traditional models, and what will both look like into the future. How can the new tools, spaces and models be used to maximise and diffuse storytelling; shed light on decision making; keep power-holders to account; and strengthen civil society and Australian democracy. Wendy will also touch on the recent media inquiry and the implications for the community non-for-profit sector.

9:45 – 11.05 Panel discussion Chaired by Wendy BaconGarry Linnell – National Editor, Metro Media, Fairfax Media

David Higgins
Innovations Editor, News Limited

Christopher Zinn– Director Campaigns & Communications, CHOICE

Marni Cordell – Editor and Publisher, New Matilda

The panel will discuss the issues raised in the opening speech and also look at the relationship between journalists and the not-for-profit sector, how they are evolving, and what opportunities there are for the sector in the changing media environment.
11:05 -11:25 Morning Tea
11:25 – 12:45 Panel discussion Chaired by Elise Davidson
Media & Communications Manager, Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN)David Penberthy– Editor, The Punch, News Limited

Suzanne Smith– Senior Investigative reporter, Lateline ABC TV

Sarah Ferguson– ABC Four Corners reporter

Trent Dalton– Assistant Editor, Courier Mail

Stories that make people care

We hear from four leading journalists and editors about what motivates them to write and broadcast about social issues in a way that makes people care. What kinds of stories are journalists looking for, how do they go about getting them, and how can the not-for-profit sector get better at getting their stories told? Does the Third Sector still rely too much on the traditional media to tell their stories?

12:45–1:30 Lunch
1:30 – 2:50 Panel discussion Chaired by Tom MortonAdele Horin– Senior Columnist, Sydney Morning Herald

Andrew McCallum– CEO Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies

Gillian Calvert
Former NSW Commissioner for Children and Young People Gillian Calvert

Breaking Down the Silos: Journalists, Bureaucracy and Social Justice

Journalists who often find that the people at the center of their stories are dealing with multiple government departments or agencies, but no-one wants to take responsibility; for example, people with mental illness may also have issues with homelessness, tenancy, substance abuse etc.

How can journalists get the buck to stop? And how can social services professionals better understand how journalists work. This session would bring together clients, professionals and journalists – with a strong emphasis on case studies.

2:50 – 3:20 Guest speaker Claire O’Rourke & David Imber
Essential Media Communications (EMC)

More Clout: Coalition campaigning in the 3rd sector

Claire O’Rourke and David Imber from Essential Media Communications will talk through the move to coalition campaigning and outline how effective coalitions can have more influence – and success.

Campaign targets often have big dollars or a seat at the table with government. Using examples from recent coalition campaigns, they will demonstrate how strategic coalitions can win, even when resources are limited.

3:20 – 3:30 Afternoon Tea
3:30 – 5:00 Final Session Chaired by Fernando de Freitas 



Jill Lang
Co-Chair, Anti-Poverty Week




Sarah Toohey
Campaign Manager
Australians for Affordable Housing




Gerard Thomas
Media & Policy Officer
National Welfare Rights Network (also ACOSS Board Member)

Collaboration: Let’s work together!

How can organisations in the not-for-profit sector work together in shared campaigns?

Anti-Poverty Week
Jill Lang will speak about the opportunity National Anti-Poverty Week (14-20 October) presents for us to work collaboratively to draw attention nation-wide to the serious issue of poverty in this country. The Week aims to strengthen public understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty and hardship around the world and in Australia.

Australians for Affordable Housing
Sarah Toohey will talk about how Australians for Affordable Housing has worked to bring a broad alliance of housing and community sector organisations together to address the national crisis in affordable housing. You’ll hear what’s worked, and what has been tough – and have a chance to have your say how to take it from great to greatest.

Allowances Campaign – Newstart
ACOSS will outline its new campaign: $35 a day is not enough! calling for an increase in low paying income support Allowances and better jobs assistance for people who are out of paid work. Fernando and Gerard will talk about the campaign (including website) and open discussion on how other groups can be involved. What role can you play to grow this campaign, for which there is widespread support in the community sector? Is it an impossible sell given public perceptions of welfare, especially in the current economic and political climate?