The Nonprofit Newspaper?

Good reporting on U.S. foreign policy requires good reporting, period.  As newspapers shrink and reporters get laid off, accurate American discourse about our actions in the world becomes less likely.


The best (worst) example is Iraq.  Even before the Obama Administration began, flagging public interest intersected with shrinking media budgets to result in Baghdad reporting cutbacks.

In less expensive parts of the world, we can expect more of the same. As newspapers go belly-up, the pool of funds available to hire foreign correspondents is declining as well.  Citizens of  the Superpower who depend on mainstream media are going to have even less information about America’s global footprint.

But instead of watching our for-profit media institutions go out of business, maybe we should stop thinking of them in business terms.   Liberal media critic Eric Alterman just published a fine column on a topic getting increasing play in some circles:  the nonprofit newspaper.

What is missing is neither the need for newspapers nor the desire for the services they provide. Rather, it’s a way to make money from them … the obvious answer would be for newspaper owners to spin off their properties and turn them into nonprofit institutions.

On the one hand, there has historically been a notion that newspapers and commerce go together — advertising, Sunday inserts, private media companies.  But as numerous major newspapers go on the chopping block, it is worth asking if the health of American democracy should be so tied to the notion that news must make a buck.

It is now time to start imagining a world in which newspapers come with nonprofit boards, membership dues (and elections), and good old fashioned fundraising campaigns.  There are probably many different possible models.  Profitability might cease to be a relevant metric, but fiscal responsibility would still be important.

While we’re at it, we should also update the course lists for America’s top journalism schools.   Here’s a suggestion for a new class:   Intro to Nonprofit Management.

2 thoughts on “The Nonprofit Newspaper?”

  1. More on this topic:

    Bloomberg News / March 25, 2009

    “NEW YORK – US Senator Ben Cardin introduced a bill to allow newspapers to operate as nonprofit organizations, following four bankruptcies in the industry in as many months.

    Under the proposed bill, advertising and circulation revenue could be claimed as tax exempt, Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said yesterday in a statement. Newspapers would be barred from making political endorsements.”

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