Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are not-for-profit groups, which are independent of commercial businesses and government agencies. They claim to serve various notions of the public good, including advocacy and service delivery. So the definition of an “NGO” is broad, including many different kinds of organizations, such as aid agencies, human rights, indigenous, feminist and environmental lobby groups.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, the predecessors of NGOs—pressure groups—tried to advance their cause by cultivating close relations with the mainstream press, and/or publishing their own periodicals. But from the late 20th century onward, many NGOs started routinely producing their own news content, including written text but also photojournalism, video, and sophisticated interactive projects. Some of this material is disseminated through “alternative” outlets, social media and activist hubs. But it is difficult for NGOs to gain a mass audience in these ways, so most major NGOs recruit or commission experienced journalists to carry out this work for them.
Much of the research in this area has focused on either journalists’ increased dependence on NGOs, or on the restructuring of NGOs’ resources, priorities and working cultures in accordance with news norms. Most scholars have also focused on the work of international aid agencies and/or human rights organizations, as well as particular kinds of crises, such as famines, hurricanes and conflicts. The extant literature is heavily weighted toward organizations which are based in North America or Europe. However, a small but growing number of scholars are challenging this, exploring the news work of other NGOs and/or news outlets, in other countries, and during other kinds of news-making periods, including conferences, summits and “quiet” news weeks.
These more diverse approaches to studying NGOs as news organizations have led to the theorization of NGO journalism becoming more nuanced. Researchers have shifted away from polarized, and somewhat over-generalized, assessments of the effects of NGO news-making, toward a greater awareness of complexity and heterogeneity. This has involved them using theory about organizations, institutions, fields and moral economies. However, the kinds of power which NGO workers are able to acquire by becoming news reporters is still under-theorized, and scholars still tend to avoid examining the frameworks they use as a basis for normative evaluation. Finally, changing media practices (including social media practices) and NGOs’ adoption of new communication technology (including satellite and drone imagery) means that this area of news work is still evolving very rapidly.