A few days ago, in “Non-Profit Model for Newspapers May Be the Answer” in Editor & Publisher, Joe Mathewson suggested that newspapers might survive if they become nonprofits:
The model is public broadcasting — or, even better, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, Inc., which owns the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
Not-for-profit, tax-exempt. No longer dependent on commercial advertisers. A brave new world!
These not-for-profits would be supported by corporate sponsorships and by contributions from foundations and public-spirited citizens who care about the community and who understand how it would be diminished by the loss of its newspapers.
And a few days prior to that, the Journal Register Co. closed 16 weeklies in Connecticut. The buzz around that news was to look to citizen journalists to fill the gap.
Why lose all the experience and institutional memories of those journalists?
Why switch to non-profit mode?
We don’t need to do either.
The business model is right under our noses: create a place for the community to share all pertinent information. That includes the information from journalists, people who sell products and services, and members of the community. It worked for decades before the metro news organizations lost their way. Thousands of small newspapers are doing quite well with it. Even Web-based news organizations are succeeding with the approach. On top of that, journalists somehow forgot that their communities LIKE the information in local ads. It’s news, too.
What’s broken is the business model of the last 20 years or so: public newspaper chains run by non-journalists and beholden to shareholders, not their communities; cannibalizing their organizations to maintain 30 percent profit margins until collapse or bankruptcy; holding on to a print-only (or TV-only) mentality in newsrooms AND ad sales departments.
It’s simply a matter of embracing the model that’s worked for decades, and transforming it to fit the nature, the characteristics of the Web. Well, maybe not so simply, given that the newspaper industry dug its grave so efficiently and nearly took journalism down with it. But doable.
Here’s how we’re going about it: Put feet on the streets for journalism.
See the next post for details.