Friday, March 27, 2009

Non-Profit Newspapers

The Associated Press reported earlier this week about a bill proposed by Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md. that would allow newspapers to choose tax-exempt status. Given that newspapers are dropping like flies (with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News among some of them), this could be an alternative route to keep American journalism alive and well.

I approached this topic over a year ago when it was clear that circulation numbers were steadily dropping for some of the country's most renowned papers. Now with Sen. Cardin's proposal, perhaps this model of journalism will be here sooner than thought.

It's already been a successful approach for the St. Petersburg Times, PBS and NPR.

However, with nonprofits struggling in this economy, will nonprofit newspapers be just another branch within the sector doing it's best to tread the water?

The Associated Press also reported on this a few weeks ago noting some of the concerns of those within the journalism industry:

Several newspaper executives this month launched a public-relations campaign to counter what they call "gloom-and-doom" reports of the industry's demise.

Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, said in an online exchange with readers recently that the nonprofit model has serious downsides, including conditions placed by funders. He added that endowments are no insulation against economic hard times.

On a more practical level, skeptics question whether the millions and millions of dollars needed to create such endowments could be raised during the worst recession in decades.

The proposal mentions that newspapers could operate as nonprofits if they choose to do so and Cardin notes that it is meant to preserve local newspapers and not large newspaper conglomerates. This nonprofit status would also mean no more political endorsements, which was something that never sat well with me to begin with.

With this said, it is good to keep in mind that this approach might not be the best for all newspapers but it could work for some. It's clear though that it's being considered more seriously than it was a year ago.

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