Branding Nonprofit News
The announcement by Arianna Huffington to launch a nonprofit investigative arm deals another blow to the holdouts who insist that only profit can drive accountable news organizations.
The Huffington Post Investigative Fund will operate under tax-exempt status and a separate legal identity from the booming news aggregate. The HuffPo Fund will provide original content that will be available to not just the Post, but to any other news organization, a requirement of its tax status.
What the HuffPo Fund has that ProPublica does not is brand name recognition, which will give it a competitive advantage in funding development.
Last week Sen. Benjamin Cardin proposed legislation to allow newspapers to operate as nonprofits, a decades-old idea that has resurged following the shuttering of newspapers across the country. Decades-old arguments against the idea have also been revisited, with some arguing against any government intervention and others arguing that only market forces can sustain media innovation.
Rick Edmonds at the Poynter Institute recalls Republican pressure on PBS "biases" but he fails to mention that newspapers operating as nonprofits would not have to receive federal cash as public broadcasting does.
And while Tim Windsor at The Neimen Journalism Lab makes the point that print may not be worth saving, he incorrectly argues that allowing nonprofit status to newspapers would make them comfortable again and kill new ideas.
News of the recession’s effects on nonprofits provides glaring evidence that nonprofit status does not lead to a cozy financial apathy. Windsor also neglects innovation spurred by nonprofits like ProPublica and the Poynter Institute’s St. Petersburg Times.
Cardin’s legislation, while not a cure-all, provides a useful first step in promoting partnerships between for-profit and nonprofit organizations. No one expects a paper like The New York Times to switch its entire operation to nonprofit status; the cost to its investors would make it impossible.
But a nonprofit partnership with the Times brand seems more likely.