Thursday, April 23, 2009

Newspapers are Ineffective: A Response to the Washington Post Facebook Cause Article

The Washington Post article, To Nonprofits Seeking Cash, Facebook App Isn't So Green, published online Wednesday, April 22 by Washington Post Staff Writers, Kim Hart and Megan Greenwell.

I wrote a response and had conversation emerge from it. I felt my own sense of correction in the way I responded from folks like...
a kind email exchange from Amy Sample Ward
a fantastic post by Allison Fine
from my post
fromLateef and others on twitter and blogs all over the web.

I told Amy I'd have to apologize to the Cause App by redeeming my criticism of it. I begrudgingly thanked Amy for the extra work she assigned me. (that I didn't need!) Grrr...thanks again, Amy.

In my attempt to gather some research for my revision/apology, I decided to reach out to the writers of the original Washington Post story. There is no place to leave comments on articles anywhere on the Washington Post's site (not even a newsvine seed link) so I clicked on the link that let me send them an email. I wrote...


On twitter and in the blog world that deals with development and social media, you guys are getting hammered on a couple of points.

1. Old information rehashed. Nothing new here, what prompted you re stirring this year old conversation?

2. You focused on wrong stats. Network for good only works with a 8000 causes that have used causes to also ask for donations. 242,000 causes aren't asking for money, aren't registered with network for good in order to ask for money. You evaluation is off because you confuse causes with intentional fundraising.

3. You blanket sweep the word "ineffective" with donations being your only metric. The development cycle measures effectiveness in very different ways. Some causes are about advocacy, not donations. Some cause are about both, but don't use the cause app to ask for money.

Either way, you are getting dismissed.
If you are having trouble finding where the conversation is dismissing you, let me know, I'll steer you to the most influential of the bloggers who are leading the charge against your analysis.


An hour later, I got a response...

Hi Michael,

We're well aware of the blog chatter out there. We stand by the reporting, obviously, and dispute the alleged factual inaccuracies. While it's true that only 8,000 nonprofts with Causes pages have signed up with Network for Good, it is incorrect to say that those are the only ones who can raise money through the site -- just by having a Causes page, a nonprofit can receive donations through Network for Good without signing up or doing anything special While not all of those nonprofits got into Causes with the goal of raising money (a point we made in the article, quoting the Nature Conservancy), those who DO hope to fundraise through the application have not raised much -- thus our point that it's ineffective as a fundraising mechanism. That doesn't mean it's a worthless operation, just that it hasn't shown a ton of progress on the fundraising part of its mission.

As for the point about it being old news, I don't think that's true except among a small number of social media types. I know similar topics have been undertaken on a number of nonprofit/social media blogs for as long as Causes has existed (we quoted the author of one of those blog posts), but the vast majority of our readers don't follow those blogs, and we thought it was important to bring an analysis to the general readership. Others are free to disagree on that point, but that was my perspective when I decided to crunch some of those numbers.

I hope this is a useful explanation, and I'll say the same thing to anyone who contacts me. We're not in the business of responding to criticism on blogs, but if people are interested enough to contact me directly I am more than willing to have a conversation with them. So thanks for writing!

I put this here to publish their answers, but I'd like to say more about what's going on from a macro level. No wonder newspapers are dying! The discussion is the story! How can they not participate in this!

I wrote back...

Really, you don’t respond or interact with the subsequent conversation that happens around your articles?

Is that an organizational standard or do some journalists make a practice of participating in the ongoing discussion?

I only point this out to you because I suspected you would have answers to the three main points that are being thrown around.
The points you make to me are great, but I don’t think I am a big enough fan of yours to advocate or defend you (not naturally, I might now)
If you knew this is the standard answer you would give. Wouldn’t you want it to be voiced in the place that the conversation is taking place?

Thanks for your time,


No response is slow...they may have realized that I blog and decided to no longer respond to me?!? :)

So, feel free to keep the discussion going.
What do you think about their response?
And, on an entirely different point, what do you think of their standard operating procedures regarding blogs?

Megan, From the Post, wrote me back Monday afternoon.
She has written an exhaustive response to Allison Fine that I hope she chooses to share. In her response to me, she notes that...
...there is no Post policy against reporters participating on blogs.
...she has a few reasons, she explains to Allison, as to why she doesn't typically practice it.
...she is up for changing her mind.

Either way, I admit that I took this conversation off topic. I do think there is more to discuss on the initial issue that was brought up by the Post. We ought to continue to draw out that discussion, even if it is drawn from email, and leave the other points to a different discussion thread.

Additional insight on Facebook causes and the Post's perspective from Lauren Miller, Beth Kanter, and Lateef.