As the print newspaper industry has declined steadily over the last decade, one of the many crazy and not-so-crazy ideas for saving legacy publishers has been the idea of going nonprofit. That frees newspapers from some burdensome taxes, as well as shareholder pressure for short-term gains.
The nonprofit model has actually been implemented in only a few cases, but the results of these early experiments look encouraging. That's judging by the willingness of philanthropists (and probably some ordinary folks, too) to stump up cash to support the practice of journalism.
One of the most prominent examples of a newspaper publisher going nonprofit, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which publishes the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, revealed that it has raised $26.5 million in donations from philanthropists and journalism foundations since it launched in January, more then doubling its endowment in a few months.
The institute’s founder, Gerry Lenfest, primed the pump for the endowment with his own $20 million donation. He has promised to match all additional donations to the institute, up to the amount of $40 million.
His eventual goal for the endowment is to raise a total of $100 million. The newspapers themselves continue to operate as for-profit businesses, and grant money is only used for long-term development projects, including digital training for journalists and collaborations with other publishers.
Lenfest Institute executive director and CEO Jim Friedlich tells The Wall Street Journal: “People are really starting to understand and appreciate the value of true, independent, well-researched journalism, as opposed to opinion masquerading as journalism or outright fake news.”Lenfest, a wealthy philanthropist, received sole control of both newspapers after former co-owner Lewis Katz died in a small plane crash in 2014. He announced plans to form the nonprofit institution, formerly known as the Institute of Journalism in New Media, back in January 2016.