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April 24, 2014, 9:30 a.m.
Business Models

Philanthropy Magazine, the magazine of the Philanthropy Roundtable, dedicated its newest issue to a question very familiar to Lab readers, albeit usually expressed in a less absolutist form: “Can Philanthropy Save Journalism?”

The upheaval in the traditional business model for journalism has meant a rapid rise of nonprofit news outlets. That, in turn, has led to questions about how those outlets can find sustainability for the long term — or just gain 501(c)(3) status.

The magazine wanted to pull back and ask a few big questions:

Can philanthropists and businessmen with a taste for “social investing” do more than just soften the losses at news-reporting organizations whose business models have collapsed? Can they subsidize certain kinds of investigating and publishing to serve public interests? Can they help discover and extend new formats, new reporters, and new subjects that will strengthen journalism’s role in maintaining the health and freedom of American society?

The issue features a contrarian take from the oft-contrarian former New York Sun editor Seth Lipsky, who argues that news organizations need a profit motive to be self-reliant. Lipsky writes:

From the Bolshevik revolution to the golden age of newspapers, the lesson of history is that self-supporting profitability provides both the entrepreneurial force and the absolute autonomy that make a powerful and independent press possible. Philanthropists who want to keep journalism vigorous might therefore want to spend less energy setting up ersatz newspapers and more time building up the profitability of our marketplaces, and protecting the right to private property — which is what the press ultimately is.

Another feature goes around the horn to take a look at the state of nonprofit newsrooms and the funders behind the scenes, including ProPublica, the Texas Tribune, First Look Media, and MinnPost. The issue also looks at how a donor-funded conference, the Faith Angle Forum, provides reporters with insight into religious issues that may cross into their coverage areas. You can find all the stories here.

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