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March 14, 2013, 10:19 a.m.

Paul Salopek’s slow-journalism walk around the world earns nonprofit status from the IRS

It’s good news for his remarkable project, but also encouraging news for nonprofit news organizations in general.


You may remember Paul Salopek from our story about him in December. Paul, a two-time Pulitzer winner and a longtime foreign correspondent, was here last year as a visiting Nieman Fellow, and he’s now launched one of the world’s great journeys: walking around the world over the course of seven years, starting in Ethiopia near the birthplace of homo sapiens and walking across Asia and the Americas, tracking the course of human migration. We look forward to seeing him back in Cambridge sometime in 2020 or thereabouts.

Paul left in late January and is on his way. (You can follow his journey on Twitter, at National Geographic, or on his site.)

But back home, there was a logistical question that was also of interest to journalists with far tighter deadlines than Paul’s. Out of Eden Walk, the rubric under which Paul is traveling, applied for nonprofit, 501(c)(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service. As longtime readers know, it has been a struggle for many aspiring nonprofit news organizations to get that status from the IRS.

Just 10 days ago, we told you about a new Council on Foundations/Knight Foundation report that calls the IRS’ rules for handling journalism nonprofits “antiquated and counterproductive.” Even when news organizations are granted nonprofit status, it can sometimes take two years or more — and many organizations are still waiting.

That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise to hear that Out of Eden Walk received its 501(c)(3) status on Feb. 28 — less than four months after applying. Our friend Jeff Hermes, director of the Digital Media Law Project here at Harvard, has the details:

The speed of this determination is not only remarkable for a journalism organization, but for a nonprofit organization of any type.

It is too early to say whether this marks a shift in the IRS’s attitude toward journalism as a whole; the Out of Eden Walk obviously has substantial differences from other nonprofit journalism ventures. It is nevertheless reassuring that the agency was so quickly able to reach a decision on the educational value in this innovative approach to reporting and storytelling.

Good news for Paul, and maybe a good sign for nonprofit journalism more broadly.

One last note, unrelated to the IRS but related to Paul: He’s asked for suggestions from the Internet on how to lighten his load of electronic gear as he shifts from using a pack camel to carrying his own gear on foot. Check out what he’s carrying and leave your suggestions on how he could best lighten his load.

Photo courtesy of Linda Lynch.

POSTED     March 14, 2013, 10:19 a.m.
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