Charitable Giving in the Media

In 2019, the percentage of Americans who donated to charity was at an all-time low. To understand why, it is essential to first ascertain the dominant cultural norms and narratives around charitable giving in the United States. Mass media play a powerful role in shaping our social norms, attitudes, and behavior on a wide variety of issues, and could be a highly effective medium for promoting charitable giving. However, there is little research on how giving is represented in mass media, and what little research exists is focused primarily on news and social media. With this in mind, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation commissioned the Media Impact Project to analyze the narratives about giving conveyed through mass media news and entertainment, as well as what types of media content are consumed by potential donor audiences. We conducted a mixed-methods study called a cultural audit, which included:

  1. A national audience survey of charitable giving audiences
  2. An analysis of 2.6 million hours of television
  3. A deep-dive into scripted content to better understand the narratives about giving that dominate the media landscape

Read the Research Highlights.


Detailed Findings
Detailed Methodology


Formative Research

This research study began with landscape analysis of the existing literature on media representations of charitable giving, framing of related issues like poverty, and the factors that make charitable appeals most effective. We also interviewed 13 experts and key leaders in charitable giving or developing narratives for prosocial impact.


Charitable Giving in Mass Media: Content, Perceptions & Outcomes
Analysis of the Research Landscape


Charitable Giving in Mass Media: Opinions & Insights
Interviews with Key Stakeholders

Change the Narrative, Change the World

In our second study with Define American, we found that TV shows with nuanced immigrant characters and immigration storylines can shift attitudes and inspire people to real-life action. Viewers who saw the immigrant storylines had more inclusive attitudes towards immigrants, greater comfort meeting undocumented people and opposition to criminalizing undocumented immigrants. They were also more likely to take certain actions, like speaking to a friend about immigration issues or attending an immigration-related community event.

Read the report.

Normalizing Injustice

Normalizing Injustice

Our research team worked with the advocacy organization Color of Change on this edifying new study that looked at depictions of the U.S. criminal justice system on American television. Among the finding were that the crime TV genre advances distorted representations of crime, justice, race and gender. For people of color, this can lead to real-life consequences.

Read the full report.

MIP Insights: RADIO VOICES: How One Grant Changed A Public Radio Station – Case Study: KCRW

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s grant to KCRW in 2015 gave the Los Angeles-based public radio station the means to expand their coverage of underserved and vulnerable populations in Southern California. As outside evaluators, our Media Impact Project examined the expanding influence and growth of KCRW’s programming through three new series at the time: Below the Ten, KCRW Investigates and There Goes the Neighborhood. Over the course of a few years, KCRW reshaped its newsroom, increased their coverage, offered fresh perspectives on the issues, and connected with new audiences.

This case study looks at the work accomplished under the KCRW-Conrad N. Hilton Foundation partnership and outlines best practices for future collaborations between philanthropy and public media, including recommendations for both media and philanthropic entities who wish to focus on issues important to both.

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Africa in the Media

In a major initiative to change the way Americans see Africa, the Lear Center’s Media Impact Project has released a seminal report that reveals that Americans seldom see mentions of Africa or Africans on popular television shows or in the news; and when they do, the portrayals are often negative and stereotyped.

The Africa Narrative, based at MIP and in partnership with CrissCrossGlobal, is a global initiative harnessing the power of the arts, media and entertainment, business, education and philanthropy to engage the world in new stories of modern Africa.


REPORT: How Trump’s ‘Shithole’ Remark About Africa Affected Public Sentiment

This analysis of Twitter sentiment in the wake of news reports that President Donald J. Trump had characterized some African nations as “shithole countries” reveals a substantial 66% increase in negative tweets about Trump, and a dramatic increase of over 3,000% in the volume of mentions of Africa. However, there is no indication of a shift in American sentiment toward Africa or Africans. Rather, the tweets focused predominantly on using the episode as a prop for partisan sniping, while any substantive discussion about Africa was largely absent. This suggests a largely missed opportunity by Americans to counter the disparaging remark with information spotlighting the success, diversity and opportunities within Africa. READ THE FULL REPORT.

Immigration Nation: Exploring Immigrant Portrayals on Television

This report presents a media content analysis conducted by the Lear Center’s Media Impact Project in collaboration with Define American, a nonprofit media and culture organization, to investigate two research questions:

1. How are immigrants and immigration issues depicted on entertainment television?

2. How do these depictions compare with the reality of the immigrant experience?

The analysis examines the demographic, socio-economic, and social representations of immigrant characters depicted, as well as the context and use of any culturally- or politically-charged terms relating to immigration in 143 episodes of 47 television shows that aired in 2017 and 2018.

How Russian Hackers and Trolls Exploited the U.S. Media in 2016: Kathleen Hall Jamieson

Read this preliminary work from Kathleen Hall Jamieson, delivered in March 2018 for her Ev Rogers Award Colloquium, which evolved into her incendiary new book, “Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President—What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know.”

Dr. Jamieson discusses her new book with the New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer.
Dr. Jamieson is a guest on KCRW’s To The Point, with Warren Olney, to discuss her book.

FRONTLINE: Creating Virtual Reality Journalism – A Guide for Best Practices

For the last three years, journalists, producers, designers and engineers from FRONTLINE and Emblematic Group have worked together to produce two VR experiences that each deploy the power of fully immersive, room-scale VR in the service of deeply reported narrative journalism. As part of the initiative, the Lear Center’s Media Impact Project conducted testing exploring how the new technology being used by FRONTLINE and Emblematic engages and informs audiences.

This report covers the lessons gleaned throughout this collaborative effort, shared to foster future opportunities for meaningful immersive journalism, and to help establish standards to guide other journalists and media organizations participating in this developing field. View the report online here.