Media coverage of nonprofits last year continued to be dominated by organizations opposing the administration’s efforts around the environment and civil liberties but much like everything else, the coronavirus pandemic changed everything.
The 2020 M+R Mediamarks Study used a comprehensive Muck Rack search to pull media hit data from Jan. 1, 2019 to April 30, 2020 for 100 nonprofits across six sectors in 60 influential media outlets. The 29-page report was released last month by M+R, a digital communications agency that works with progressive causes.
“While we can’t hope to keep up with the ever-accelerating cycle (that would require releasing a new Mediamarks roughly once every six hours), this updated analysis of trends across 2019 and early 2020 will help you better understand what’s working, what’s changing, and what you need to do to keep up,” according to the report’s authors.
“The relative prominence of any given issue area is influenced by an outlet’s location, readership, history, and editorial priorities,” according to the authors. “The most successful nonprofits will take those elements into account when developing a media plan -- and not limit themselves to the most obvious outlet options.”
The 2018 Mediamarks report declared organizations dedicated to protecting civil liberties and providing legal services “Defenders,” as support and coverage of their efforts fighting the Trump administration surged.
The major driving force behind the most prominent stories again last year was President Donald Trump, ranging from immigration policy to the ban on military service by transgender Americans and other efforts to roll back protections for LGBTQ people, to weakening environmental regulations. Nonprofits that pushed back saw a corresponding lift in coverage.
Many top environmental stories focused on the administration’s efforts to weaken environmental regulations and the impact of Trump’s policies on the environment. Outside the “Trump/not-Trump binary,” wildfires in the Amazon generated startling images and important climate change coverage.
Almost three quarters of nonprofit coverage in 2019 came via awareness stories -- those which elevate the visibility of a specific issue or cause. Awareness stories accounted for the vast majority of coverage for cultural and social services nonprofits in particular. Advocacy coverage, those stories including a call for specific policy change or public action, accounted for 28 percent of stories in 2019. Two sectors that received the most coverage were more balanced. Advocacy represented 61 percent of stories for Defenders and environmental nonprofits saw almost half of press coverage via advocacy stories (42 percent).
As the pandemic took hold in March and April, news coverage for Defenders dropped while health nonprofits expectedly saw an increase in attention in January-April in coverage compared to the same period in 2019. International and social services nonprofits also received more mentions but the biggest increase came in the cultural sector. Some of that was from coverage of museum closures, cancelled performances, and other COVID-related stories but cultural nonprofits were the only sector to get at least as much non-COVID coverage over the first four months of 2020 as it had during the same period in 2019.