It’s that time of year – when your inbox gets inundated with appeals for donations. Year-end giving is really the engine that sustains many nonprofit organizations, so it’s a crucial time on the calendar. And, although they can be irritating at times, these appeals are necessary to get the word out and secure donations that fund important work all year.
You’ll be getting plenty of those requests from Media Matters over the coming weeks too! But before the year-end funding drive kicks off in full steam, I wanted to share some personal thoughts and reflections as my first year serving as president of Media Matters draws to a close.
I came to Media Matters not from a political background, but rather as an activist. While in law school, during the summer of 2009, I started a Twitter-based campaign to get Glenn Beck off of Fox News by targeting his advertisers. I continued working on that campaign while finishing law school. Afterward, instead of moving to New York and taking an offer from a big law firm, I ended up joining Media Matters in the fall of 2010. I continued my efforts as a staff member there in concert with an existing coalition of progressive organizations, like Color of Change and Jewish Funds For Justice (now called Bend The Arc).
Since I joined Media Matters seven years ago, much of my work has focused on harnessing the organization’s unique expertise and capacity to get the most extreme and destructive people – like Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Jeffrey Lord – off the air. But there’s so much more to Media Matters than the few times that we’ve been forced to launch campaigns against some of the worst and loudest right-wing bullies.
Here are just a few things I want to share about Media Matters that I think sometimes get overlooked:
- We’re a staff of roughly 75 people. The overwhelming majority of the staff is researchers: people whose sole job and responsibility is to monitor news media and identify and grapple with misinformation.
- We have a ton of expertise. Sometimes, we build out entire teams run by an issue expert just so we’re best-positioned to engage on that topic. Currently, we have dedicated issue teams for climate change and the environment, reproductive freedom, gun violence and public safety, and LGBTQ rights.
- We have a TON of data. Media Matters‘ television and radio archive goes back over 10 years. AND we’ve recently started analyzing even more data by expanding our recordings of local media markets (due to the impending Sinclair takeover), as well as expanding the number of local radio and even podcasts that we capture and analyze.
- Most of what Media Matters does is not seen. We’re a resource. Our bottom-line objective is to improve the media landscape and the conversations happening in it. Mission effectiveness is what drives us. That often means doing a lot of work with little to no expectation or desire for recognition or credit. Sometimes that means making sure that news media are aware of the latest right-wing lie so that they don’t unintentionally parrot it. Other times, it could mean spending weeks showing a major news outlet how its treatment of a particular issue or story is inadequate in order to convince that outlet to change its approach. Regardless of whether we’d get to claim a “win,” if we see something that we can do to improve things, we work to do it – day in and day out.
Even before I started working at Media Matters, I described myself as the organization’s biggest fan as well as its fiercest critic. When I took the reins one year ago, I spent a lot of time listening to input as well as thinking long and hard about both sides of that fan/critic spectrum.
One strength that we have at Media Matters is a culture of self-evaluation and constant growth. And I was determined to leverage that culture to strengthen the organization and improve the way we carry out our mission. Accordingly, we made a lot of changes really fast and then continued tweaking throughout the year.
Here are some of things that we have done in the past year that strengthened the team and our ability to carry out our work in the years ahead:
- We immediately developed a massive plan for systematically understanding and addressing the fake news ecosystem. We’ve made great strides here and have even more exciting things on the horizon. OZY actually profiled Media Matters a few months ago, looking into the new trajectory that I’ve set, and heralded our efforts at grappling with fake news and disinformation. The piece offers a good bit of background about me and summarizes Media Matters‘ efforts pretty concisely.
- At the beginning of the year, we restructured most of the organization in order to better position Media Matters to rise to the challenges of the current hyper-fragmented media landscape.
- We thought long and hard about the organization’s senior leadership and staffed it accordingly to align with our efforts to be a much more inclusive organization from top to bottom. There is always more work to do when it comes to building and maintaining an inclusive work environment, but I am happy to report that our senior leadership is now evenly split between men and women.
- We’re also being much more intentional about our own blind spots when it comes to our writers. We recognize that we’ll be even more effective at carrying out our mission if we have a more expansive and inclusive group of people writing for the Media Matters website. To this end, a few weeks ago, we launched a program solely focused on identifying, developing, and incorporating into our writing staff voices that fully reflect the diverse society we live in.
- The Media Matters website is currently being completely overhauled. Our site is a relic from another time. This year, we made the serious commitment to redesign and rebuild the website from the ground up. The whole process will take about eight months. But I couldn’t be happier that we’ve finally taken the plunge.
In the coming weeks, you’ll be hearing more specifics about the work that we have done this year and what we plan to do in the years ahead.
On a final note…
On Twitter, I often describe myself in tongue-in-cheek fashion as “smugly self-satisfied.” But this year has truly been an exercise in humility. Leading an organization of Media Matters‘ size, speed, and complexity of mission is difficult and draining. The combination of fundraising travel, interactions with the news media, advocacy work, and just being present to learn from and work with the team can feel isolating and daunting at times.
I will confess that I had many moments of self-doubt throughout the year. But as I think about all that we’ve already done this year, there’s not an ounce of self-doubt left. Thanks in large part to the efforts of the Media Matters team and your support and participation, all that remains is confidence in our path.
President, Media Matters
P.S. Want to get out ahead of Media Matters‘ year-end fundraiser and show your support now? Donate here: http://mm4a.org/donate2017