Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hey, Nicholas Kristof, Help Us Defend Journalism From Your Favorite Charity

By Steve Collins
Board president

I remember sitting through a session some years back with high school journalism teachers concerned that administrators wanted them to cease publishing the names of any students mentioned in the newspapers they advised. Instead of referring to “Mary Smith” or “David Jones” they had been told to use only Mary S. or David J. We all shook our heads at the idiocy of it. The advisers vowed to fight the policy, pointing out that it was so dumb that even the students in their classes couldn’t have bylines with their full names, effectively undercutting one of the great joys of journalism to any young writer.
Honestly, I felt a great sense of relief that Youth Journalism International didn’t have to worry about these sorts of ridiculous rules. We have professional standards for everything we do. Those we quote have real names. Those who write our stories have genuine bylines. We give students across the globe a voice, a chance to tell their stories to the world. Without their names attached, it would mean far less.
Now, though, we’re suddenly faced with the proposition that if we want to detail our activities to donors at GlobalGiving, our reports can’t use the names of our students, even though they are plastered all over our websites, social media and more. They’re proud to have their names known to the world. And they should be.
What happened is that after we submitted a required report recently on our activities, which we must do at least every few months, GlobalGiving rejected it. In the philanthropic clearinghouse’s words, “our project report contained last names of beneficiaries. GlobalGiving works to ensure that the privacy and safety of individuals is respected. .. If these are not the real names of your project's beneficiaries please indicate this in your project report. Please either change the names of the beneficiaries or remove their last names.”
I read the words with astonishment. They want a charity devoted to teaching journalism to abandon journalistic principles?
Here’s what I wrote back, two days ago:
Youth Journalism International publishes student work with professional standards, including the requirement that all material carries their full name as a byline. Anyone who doesn't want his or her name used wouldn't participate.
So it doesn't make any sense at all for us to use their names, photographs and more on our websites, blogs, social media and other venues but strip them away for reports on Global Giving. Doing so would undermine the entire ethos of transparency and professionalism that has made YJI a reputable voice for students across the globe.
Would you really want us to tell donors about stories by, say, Arooj or Geraldine or Zach and then link to their work that has their entire name, often with photographs and datelines? It would make us look stupid and, in all honesty, it would make Global Giving appear sort of silly, too.
Your policy may make perfect sense for many, even most, charities. But for us, it would undermine what we do. Believe me, we care a whole lot more about the security and safety of our young writers, photographers and cartoonists than you do.
So far, I’ve heard no response, which means the reports remain on the shelf instead of distributed to our donors.
In all honesty, I would rather that donors send checks directly to Youth Journalism International. That way, we would get all the money – and, God knows, we need every penny we can get. We face a tidal wave of interest from students in almost every country, but we can’t take more than a tiny fraction of them all. That’s the sad truth.
But GlobalGiving is a well-known, respected platform that brings projects and charities such as ours to many who would otherwise never see them. Even though it takes 15 percent of every donation so that it can operate, we get funds that wouldn’t come to us without it. So we worked to make sure we were listed on its site and to maintain regular communications with those who have been kind and generous enough to help us with contributions that flowed through it. There’s a reason Nicholas Kristof touts GlobalGiving.
Yet its policy would force us to redact the names of students who yearn to have their stories spread far and wide.  How could we, in good conscience, strip their names away and talk only about what they had to say or refer them in some kind of shorthand?
GlobalGiving has a right to make its own rules, though I hope it will have the good sense to realize that some rules need to be broken. Youth Journalism International is in a unique situation, serving as an educator for students from 12 to 25 in scores of different countries. But we’re not the only nonprofit whose beneficiaries crave a byline. There are plenty of literary outlets, for example, that also use students’ names – and would lose a lot if they were to stop doing so. Our students are not charity cases whose identities should perhaps be hidden. They are tomorrow’s leaders in many, many lands.
In any case, we’re not going to slice and dice students’ names or pretend we don’t know them. No edict from GlobalGiving or any outside entity is going to force us to revise a policy that we’re sure is correct. If that means we lose a funding source, well, then we lose a funding source. We’ll make do somehow.
Meanwhile, Nicholas Kristof, maybe you could tell your friends at GlobalGiving that they’re wrong?

Collins is a co-founder and board president of Youth Journalism International.

Want to help Youth Journalism International with a donation? We would be grateful! www.HelpYJI.com

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