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The 2019 Media Impact Forum
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The 2019 Media Impact Forum

October was jam-packed with events examining how media can inspire creativity and catalyze change. From audio to visual, campaigns to games, virtual war stories to life-threatening investigations, this month offered insights on the impact of many different media forms.

In Philadelphia, the Communications Network’s annual conference brought foundation staffers from around the country together October 8-10 to absorb the latest in strategic communication from leaders in PR, news and digital storytelling.
MIF’s Vince Stehle joined The California Endowment’s Mary Lou Fulton for a funder breakfast discussing takeaways from the foundation’s Communications That Fast Track Policy Change in-depth case studies. Attendees heard from the powerful campaigns that Hershey Cause Communications documented, tackling inequities in school discipline and issues facing those who have suffered childhood trauma, and discussed the 10 Elements of Success surfaced through this valuable research. The rest of the conference was also chock full of tools and sharp observations—learn more in our comprehensive Storify.

Next, MIF Research Director Jessica Clark headed to Halifax for a panel organized by the Inspirit Foundation for the annual meeting of Philanthropic Foundations Canada. The conference theme was “Working Together,” and discussions of collective impact wove throughout the gathering. Clark moderated a panel that aimed to bring Canadian funders together to consider the question of how they might best use documentaries to advance their work around pressing social issues.
While Canada has a strong tradition of government-funded social documentary, the philanthropic community has not yet widely adopted films as engagement platforms. Inspirit Foundation President and CEO Andrea Nemtin has been interviewing philanthropists across the country about the viability of increasing this practice, and announced the release of a related publication, Canadian Impact Media Research Report, which examines possible social returns on such investments. Johanna Blakley, the managing director and director of research at the Norman Lear Center, spoke about the sophisticated survey research she’s conducted about documentaries for the center’s Media Impact Project. Brett Hendrie, the Executive Director of Hot Docs, also shared findings from the research report that the film festival commissioned on documentary impact. “Story is everything” for effective docs, he noted, but “strategy is crucial.”

Blakley and Clark also joined Stehle and MIF Communications Director Sarah Armour-Jones at PopTech. The event served up a dizzying showcase of media and social innovators, who are making their impact with the help of a dash of rebellion. Read all about it in our Storify and Armour-Jones’ insights post, or catch the gathering’s flavor through visual scribing of the presentations (above) by Alphachimp’s Peter Durand.
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On October 30, Clark helped to organize a gathering with Tribeca Film Institute, MIT’s OpenDocLabs, and a coterie of creative interactive documentary makers and analysts in New York. The goals for the day-long convening, which was supported by The Fledgling Fund, were to better understand how and why emerging documentary forms can make a difference, and to brainstorm tools and solutions to help producers track and express their impact. Catch up on the group’s insights in this Storify.
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Virunga explores how rangers and conservationists are fighting to protect the Congo’s Virunga National Park, home to the last of the world’s mountain gorillas.
The next day, Clark joined Stehle, who moderated a session at Philanthropy New York examining how a set of hard-hitting documentary films have kept a critical eye on big oil’s negative environmental effects: Virunga, Gasland I and Gasland II. The discussion explored how both campaigns are changing minds, shifting policy and investments, and fostering effective collaborations across national lines. Many thanks to our speakers for the day from 11th Hour, Virunga, The Harmony Institute and The Fledgling Fund, and to Philanthropy New York for hosting and producing this Storify and livestream from the day.
We closed out the month with a preview of the disturbingly impactful new exhibit on display at the offices of the Open Society Foundations (OSF). The latest in the foundation’s Moving Walls series, this show titled Watching You, Watching Me focuses on issues of surveillance and privacy.
wedding blue sky days
Particularly striking: images from Tomas van Houtryve’s Blue Sky Days project, which offers a drones-eye view of US targets that are parallel to actual drone targets in Pakistan and Yemen. Learn more about how the foundation supports high-impact images in this session from our Media Impact Forum, featuring Amy Yenkin, the director of OSF’s Documentary Photography Project.
Many thanks to all of our speakers, co-organizers and hosts. Stay tuned for details next month on the survey MIF has been conducting with funders across the country about how they define and track the impact of their media investments.

About the Author
Jessica Clark

Jessica Clark

Research Consultant

Jessica is a research consultant for Media Impact Funders, and the founder and director of media production/strategy firm Dot Connector Studio. She is also currently a senior fellow at the Norman Lear Center’s Media Impact Project. Previously, she served as the media strategist for AIR’s groundbreaking Localore project, the director of the Future of Public Media project at American University’s Center for Media and Social Impact, and a Knight Media Policy Fellow at D.C.-based think tank the New America Foundation. Over the past decade, she has led research and convenings with high-profile universities and national media networks, including NPR, PBS, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, MIT, and USC’s Annenberg School for Communication. She is the co-author of Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media (The New Press, 2010), and a longtime independent journalist.