Debate Over the Nonprofit Newspaper Model Lands in the Senate

Conor Clarke in the Atlantic's business blog today, reports on Senator Benjamin Cardin's plan to make it easy for newspapers to become nonprofits. But do we really want newspapers that promote the agendas of private foundations?

The nonprofit model has been floated ever since it was revealed that newspapers are doomed, and most point to the Poynter Institute, owners of the St. Petersburg Times, as the best example of nonprofit news done right.


The proposed legislation, called the Newspaper Revitalization Act, would allow dying papers to operate as nonprofits for educational purposes under the U.S. tax code, giving them a similar status to public broadcasting companies. In return, newspapers would be unable to endorse candidates and legislation. There's really no problem with that part, notes Clarke. "Opinion is cheap and plentiful on the web."

The bigger problem is how to get from here to there. The message of Yale investment guru David Swensen's suggestion about this "wasn't the abstract notion of turning a newspaper into a non-profit; indeed, a handful newspapers and newswires (the Guardian, the AP, the NYT, the St. Petersburg Times) have come up with hybrid or ostensibly non-profit ownership structures already. The problem was endowing a newspaper like a university." To run the New York Times, for example, would require an endowment of $5 billion. "Making this happen requires more than a law," writes Clarke. "It requires an angel."

When Big Think interviewd John Temple, former editor of the Rocky Mountain News, he dismissed the potential of the nonprofit model, arguing that the profit-motive catalyzes innovation, sparks editorial energy, and does more to serve the broader public agenda, without private political motive. What do you think? Can a nonprofit model salvage the Fifth Estate, or do newspapers need to evolve into something different, but equally profit-driven, to survive?

How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
Sponsored
  • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
  • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
  • Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Keep reading Show less

Why the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner won’t feature a comedian in 2019

It's the first time the association hasn't hired a comedian in 16 years.

(Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images for Vulture Festival)
Culture & Religion
  • The 2018 WHCA ended in controversy after comedian Michelle Wolf made jokes some considered to be offensive.
  • The WHCA apologized for Wolf's jokes, though some journalists and many comedians backed the comedian and decried arguments in favor of limiting the types of speech permitted at the event.
  • Ron Chernow, who penned a bestselling biography of Alexander Hamilton, will speak at next year's dinner.
Keep reading Show less

Juice is terrible for children. Why do we keep giving it to them?

A glass of juice has as much sugar, ounce for ounce, as a full-calorie soda. And those vitamins do almost nothing.

Pixabay user Stocksnap
popular

Quick: think back to childhood (if you've reached the scary clown you've gone too far). What did your parents or guardians give you to keep you quiet? If you're anything like most parents, it was juice. But here's the thing: juice is bad for you. 

Keep reading Show less

A new study says alcohol changes how the brain creates memories

A study on flies may hold the key to future addiction treatments.

Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • A new study suggests that drinking alcohol can affect how memories are stored away as good or bad.
  • This may have drastic implications for how addiction is caused and how people recall intoxication.
  • The findings may one day lead to a new form of treatment for those suffering from addiction.
Keep reading Show less