The New York Times floats the idea of turning newspapers into non-profit organizations. Nice idea, which I liked even more when I had it, back in 2005. Also find if funny that the New York Times would be mentioning this idea at this particular time, when Michael Hirschorn just reported in the Atlantic that there is a small but not indistinct possibility of the Times going out of business, perhaps as early as May. (Thanks, Squathole)
4 thoughts on “Turning newspapers into non-profit organizations”
That Atlantic issue is a gem -I’m so glad I saved it to get me through jury duty. Bttlestar Galactica, Charles Schumer, how football is broadcast, an excellent Abinder article. Just cover-to-cover.
Anyway, the NYT editorial is another desperate gasp for relevancy in and era where —as Hirschhorn says— nobody is clamoring to save the newspaper outside of newspaper people. The dire consequences for society-at-large are not true. Newspapers are not the only trustworthy source and newsgathering doesn’t have to be the expensive endeavour they portray. We have more information than ever before and from many more sources. Hirschhorn again, uses the example of local bloggers in Thailand during the earthquake. In Slate there’s an article about the more than 700 user-generated images received by CNN of the moment Obama took the oath. I don’t doubt my news aggregator anymore than I doubt a WSJ article. What we are seeing now reminds me of when the business of print became digital. Lots of jobs, product lines and entire industries had to disappear or adapt.
Oh yeah, about the non-profit idea. Shareholders would have to be paid. (Hirschhorn cites estimated market cap value of $1B) Where’s the money coming from? It would be delicious to see some kind of government endowment ala NPR. Limbaugh’s head would explode.
I’m thrilled to hear you say that, Alex. I’m two issues into my first year of subscribing to the Atlantic, and I’m feeling like I’ve advanced from being “an intelectual” to “a member of the intelligentsia.” 🙂
I still think the non-profit idea could work. Yes, the for-profit owners would have to be paid, and I think I said then that the way to do it is to sell the big fancy building. At least in the cases of the New York Times and the Miami Herald this would come close to being enough.
But what I now see happening over the next 10 years is that basically most newspapers dissolve, and the few that remain become national papers, with lots of local bureaus around the country and the world. And a lot of those local bureaus, plus lots more independent journalists, could work for more then one paper.
So instead of having three national papers (USA Today, WSJ, and NYT), you’d have maybe a dozen, and each one would have a local section written in your town by whatever journalists used to work for your local paper.
I like the idea a lot, altho this statement from the article stops me short:
How large an endowment would a newspaper need? The news-gathering operations at The New York Times cost a little more than $200 million a year. Assuming some additional outlay for overhead, it would require an endowment of approximately $5 billion (assuming a 5 percent annual payout rate). Newspapers with smaller newsrooms would require smaller endowments.
A $5 billion endowment ain’t lightweight. Of course, this is the largest news-gathering operation around, but it’s also (arguably) the best. The underlying purpose of the proposal is to inspire good reporting, not merely adequate. It’s expensive.
I would pay five times the subscription cost. That’s how fantastic the magazine is. (BTW, I was also a Times Select subscriber, so I would pay for online content). Making a further parallel with the NYT, the Atlantic has an excellent website that should be studied as an example of online/print integration. The blogs of Sullivan, Fallows and Goldberg of course, but also their web-only opinion is first class (see Matthew Yglesias well-timed article about filibusterism).
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