Beat Blog Q&A: A View from the Cave

I asked Tom Murphy, who keeps a blog called “A View from the Cave,” some questions about his blogging, background, and experience with the study of global relief and charities.

Tell me about your background. What did you study in college? What was your first job after college?

In college I studied Political Science in English. All of my internship and study work was aimed at participating in US politics. I worked on a few campaigns and was a legislative aid for a state representative. Upon graduation, I worked as an English and Social Studies teacher, through AmeriCorps, for 5th and 6th grade boys in New Haven, CT.

How did you become interested in nonprofits, charities, aid, and donations?

My interest in nonprofits and charity began with volunteer work in middle school. By participating in a program for young people with developmental disabilities, I was encouraged by the ways that by providing the right outlet, any child can have the opportunity to not only thrive but be happy. This continued as I got older, but I began to take a more reflexive look upon the sector as I had further experiences with different charitable organizations. Through this process I soon realized that some programs do more harm than good.

How did the “A View from the Cave” blog come about? How did you come up with the title?

The blog started as a travel reflection while working in Western Kenya in 2009. I wanted to keep family and friends informed about my experiences by including a warts and all take on my life.  The name is in reference to Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave.’  Meant to be a bit cheeky, the idea was that by living a completely different experience I was altering my view on reality by actively looking at the world rather than allowing images chosen for me to pass before my eyes.

In your opinion, what is the biggest issue with nonprofits in America today? What are they doing right?

Looking at international nonprofits based in the US, the biggest issue is the lack of education that they provide to the American public. After 50+ years of international development, we still see Africa portrayed as a monolith in need of our help.  Little is done to differentiate the many countries that make up the nation nor delve into the complexities of poverty. This same problem can be applied to the domestic sector. With a strong focus on suffering and inability, poverty is seen through a simple lens that allows individuals or groups to misunderstand its causes. In both cases, there is a lack of understanding by the American public that their own actions, whether it be carbon based consumption or government policies, have a serious impact on billions of people including many in the US.

What they do right is recognize all of these complexities internally. Nonprofits are pushing themselves to advocate for changes that will address the systemic issues of poverty.  They are also making the world a better place. Charles Kenny’s book ‘Getting Better’ provides some excellent examples of this trend.  Poverty as a percentage is dropping around the world, health is improving, people are living longer, more children are in school and on and on.

Which blog post is your most popular?

My most popular post is a summary of a twitter argument that emerged last year between Rwandan President Paul Kagame and British journalist Ian Birrell :http://www.aviewfromthecave.com/2011/05/ian-birrell-vs-paul-kagame-on-twitter.html On a Saturday afternoon, I took a quick peek onto twitter and saw that they were having a rather heated exchange.  Being that twitter is a bit hard to follow when two people are having an extended exchange, I decided to pull out all the tweets to read what they were saying. Since I already did the work, I decided to whip up a quick post as I was sure others would be interested. It is also my most commented post with 77 comments and 691 tweets.

Where do you get your ideas for your blog?

I do my best to stay current, so I get many ideas from other blog posts, recent NGO and government reports, and news stories. I also now get idea pitches and have orgs and PR firms that reach out to do interviews.  For the most part I do the interviews and see if there is something from that worth writing about in a post.
What advice do you have for aspiring bloggers?

I have nothing to special offer other than to just write and do it frequently. The toughest part of blogging was getting used to the style and length.  You have to interest someone and provide ample information in as few words as possible. It took some time, but I think that I have been able to get to a point where I can provide adequate information. Second, pick a topic and stick to it. You will lose interest in people if you are too broad in your topics.  A little personality is really helpful, but if it makes it so that there is a lack of consistency people will not want to visit. Third, is to be friendly. Try to respond to questions and comments and maintain a civil voice, even when people make personal attacks.  Finally, use other social media tools to connect with fellow bloggers and people interested in your topic area.  It can be a way to further discussions and gather ideas for potential posts.

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