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Car Washes and Genocide

I just returned from a meeting at our client the American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Lots of interesting things there, but also some buzz about a column today in the Times by Nicholas Kristof. Kristof has been a leading voice on the issue of Darfur and has traveled there, documented what is going on, and has written probably dozens of columns on what is happening – and what is not happening – to stop the genocide.

This is of interest to AJWS because they have been the leading voice in the Jewish community, and one of the leading voices period, on this issue. They helped found the Save Darfur coalition, and their direct work in this area has been substantial.

You should read Kristof’s column today, called Car Washes and Genocide (requires subscription.) What he says is that the recent news out of Darfur, that Bill Richardson negotiated some kind of cease fire, was a direct result of grassroots activity in the US. While he is under no illusions that this is over, kids sending money and lawn signs in Peoria, do make a difference. In other words, all that advocacy activity that organizations work hard to do, often through the web and email, can make a difference.

The other thing I noticed here was how much old journalism is meshing with new media. This is because they have no choice – they are dying otherwise. At the bottom on this column online (I don’t know whether the same text is in the print edition) it says,

I’ve cited many more examples of ordinary people taking on the cause of Darfur in extraordinary ways in my blog, “On the Ground.” You can also post your comments about this column there.

This is a new level of accessibility between readers and journalists. The online communities mean that the author can write a lot more than will find its way in the print edition, and the result is as much a conversation with readers than it is the kind of top-down traditional media approach. All of this is good and bad. On this subject, there was an interesting piece by David Carr in yesterday’s Times about journalists and blogs, and how they change the normal news dynamic. For your organization and cause, it pays to participate in these conversations because you are then visible to a community of self-selected individuals who have proven by their presence that they care about the same things you do.

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