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Law firms ought to follow Gates Foundation in messaging through journalism

February 20, 2011

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is using journalism to get its message out in in a big way. From Sandi Doughton and Kristi Heim in this morning’s Seattle Times:

To garner attention for the issues it cares about, the foundation has invested millions in training programs for journalists. It funds research on the most effective ways to craft media messages. Gates-backed think tanks turn out media fact sheets and newspaper opinion pieces. Magazines and scientific journals get Gates money to publish research and articles. Experts coached in Gates-funded programs write columns that appear in media outlets from The New York Times to The Huffington Post, while digital portals blur the line between journalism and spin.

We’re talking big money for what the Foundation allots for ‘policy and advocacy.’

Over the past decade, Gates has devoted $1 billion to these programs, which now account for about a tenth of the giant philanthropy’s $3 billion-a-year spending. The Gates Foundation spends more on policy and advocacy than most big foundations — including Rockefeller and MacArthur — spend in total.


[T]o boost funding and focus from governments, businesses and other foundations for the battle against disease and poverty — particularly now, as Congress considers deep cuts in foreign aid.

I’m not suggesting that law firms put a third of their revenue into journalism grants to support causes fighting disease and poverty. I am suggesting that law firms take note of the power of journalism — even citizen journalism that they could run on their own to advance causes they or their clients support.

Look at Food Safety News – FSN, the leading (if not only) publication looking at food safety issues. FSN is the brain child of Seattle Attorney Bill Marler and totally funded by his eight lawyer law firm, Marler Clark.

FSN is not a blog highlighting matters Marler’s firm is involved in, but a full blown news site staffed with reporters and editors covering food safety matters in the U.S. and abroad. The goal of FSN is food safety advocacy and better food regulation.

With the advent of citizen journalism and the force it can generate, it’s surprising that more law firms are not taking Marler Clark’s lead in advancing their causes through journalism.

Large law firms supporting the social media and journalism efforts of pro-bono law organizations would be a start.

The latest push by Melinda Gates is to shift coverage from stories of despair to stories that show problems can be solved. Gates, Quoted by the Times, “People need to hear and see these success stories. In the U.S. media, too often you hear what is not working.”

Why not start a news site supported by your large law firm highlighting success stories of pro-bono causes in your metro area?

Law firms obviously don’t have the resources of the Gates Foundation to support and produce main stream media. But law firms certainly have it within their means to support, and perhaps run, citizen journalism sites advancing causes they and their clients support.

Lawyers and law firms have an obligation to give back — to support efforts for good in our society. The support of cause driven journalism would an excellent way to do so.

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