20200
P
1
20100
R  E
2
2070
D   I   C
3
2050
T   I   O   N
4
2040
S   F   O   R   J
5
2030
O  U  R  N  A  L
6
2020
I  S  M  2  0  2  0
7

The promise of nonprofit journalism

“While the work of journalists has value to society, anyone can enjoy these benefits without having to pay for it, being interested in it, or even being aware of it.”

With all the stresses and strains on commercial models of news, the idea of nonprofit journalism is increasing being seen as an attractive option. Journalism is an expensive business. That wasn’t an issue in the 20th century, when newspapers could count on profit margins of 20 to 40 percent. But once shareholders get used to such returns, it’s hard to accept margins in the single digits.

Enter nonprofit journalism as a business model for funding activities that are public goods but may not be commercially viable. According to the Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, “nonprofit newsrooms have been launching at a pace of more than one a month in the U.S. for almost 12 years.” It now counts 212 news organization among its members. And just last year, there were two books published on the topic: Magda Konieczna’s Journalism Without Profit (Oxford) and Bill Birnbauer’s The Rise of NonProfit Investigative Journalism in the United States (Routledge).

An accelerated shift towards nonprofit journalism appears to be under way in the U.S., as noted by another prediction contributor and by regular articles on this site. And it seems to catching on north of the border in Canada. One of the most prominent examples of this trend is The Tyee. The independent online news magazine based in British Columbia is aiming to become a nonprofit funded by readers after more than 16 years as a for-profit business.

The shift away from commercial structures is relevant for a profession driven by a sense of serving the public good rather than striking it rich. But shifting from for- to nonprofit is not in itself a business model. It’s a different corporate structure. Being a nonprofit doesn’t change the need to make money to pay for the people, time, and resources needed to produce journalism.

It also doesn’t change the economics of journalism or its value as an economic good. While the work of journalists has value to society, anyone can enjoy these benefits without having to pay for it, being interested in it, or even being aware of it. A major investigation by a nonprofit newsroom that leads to a positive policy change is good for everyone. But not everyone will be following the story closely or even be interested in it. Hence the economic crux for nonprofits seeking to pursue public interest journalism.

As media economics scholar Robert Picard has noted, the practice of journalism has been subsidized for centuries, from patronage to reader subscriptions to advertising. Today, nonprofits have sought the patronage of wealthy individuals and philanthropic foundations or are asking readers to become subscribers, members, or patrons. There’s an increasing trend among journalism organizations to turn to their readers for financial support. Making the case for enough people in a community to provide enough funding to keep going for years and years is challenging and necessary. It may be one way to start to repair the loss of trust in and public engagement with journalism in North America.

Alfred Hermida and Mary Lynn Young are both associate professors at the School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia.

With all the stresses and strains on commercial models of news, the idea of nonprofit journalism is increasing being seen as an attractive option. Journalism is an expensive business. That wasn’t an issue in the 20th century, when newspapers could count on profit margins of 20 to 40 percent. But once shareholders get used to such returns, it’s hard to accept margins in the single digits.

Enter nonprofit journalism as a business model for funding activities that are public goods but may not be commercially viable. According to the Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, “nonprofit newsrooms have been launching at a pace of more than one a month in the U.S. for almost 12 years.” It now counts 212 news organization among its members. And just last year, there were two books published on the topic: Magda Konieczna’s Journalism Without Profit (Oxford) and Bill Birnbauer’s The Rise of NonProfit Investigative Journalism in the United States (Routledge).

An accelerated shift towards nonprofit journalism appears to be under way in the U.S., as noted by another prediction contributor and by regular articles on this site. And it seems to catching on north of the border in Canada. One of the most prominent examples of this trend is The Tyee. The independent online news magazine based in British Columbia is aiming to become a nonprofit funded by readers after more than 16 years as a for-profit business.

The shift away from commercial structures is relevant for a profession driven by a sense of serving the public good rather than striking it rich. But shifting from for- to nonprofit is not in itself a business model. It’s a different corporate structure. Being a nonprofit doesn’t change the need to make money to pay for the people, time, and resources needed to produce journalism.

It also doesn’t change the economics of journalism or its value as an economic good. While the work of journalists has value to society, anyone can enjoy these benefits without having to pay for it, being interested in it, or even being aware of it. A major investigation by a nonprofit newsroom that leads to a positive policy change is good for everyone. But not everyone will be following the story closely or even be interested in it. Hence the economic crux for nonprofits seeking to pursue public interest journalism.

As media economics scholar Robert Picard has noted, the practice of journalism has been subsidized for centuries, from patronage to reader subscriptions to advertising. Today, nonprofits have sought the patronage of wealthy individuals and philanthropic foundations or are asking readers to become subscribers, members, or patrons. There’s an increasing trend among journalism organizations to turn to their readers for financial support. Making the case for enough people in a community to provide enough funding to keep going for years and years is challenging and necessary. It may be one way to start to repair the loss of trust in and public engagement with journalism in North America.

Alfred Hermida and Mary Lynn Young are both associate professors at the School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia.

Sarah Alvarez   I’m ready for post-news

Fiona Spruill   The climate crisis gets the coverage it deserves

J. Siguru Wahutu   Western journalists, learn from your African peers

Meg Marco   Everything happens somewhere

Seth C. Lewis   20 questions for 2020

Alexandra Borchardt   Get out of the office and talk to people

Sue Robinson   Campaign coverage as test bed for engagement experiments

Catalina Albeanu   Rebuilding journalism, together

Pablo Boczkowski   The day after November 4

Candis Callison   Taking a cue from Indigenous journalists on climate change

Sarah Schmalbach   Journalist, quantify thyself

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, collaboration in a time of state attacks

John Keefe   Journalism gets hacked

Josh Schwartz   Publishers move beyond the metered paywall

Kourtney Bitterly   Transparency isn’t just a desire, it’s an expectation

M. Scott Havens   First-party data becomes media’s most important currency

Sara K. Baranowski   A big year for little newspapers

S. Mitra Kalita   The race to 2021

Julia B. Chan   We 👏 take 👏 breaks 👏

Rachel Davis Mersey   The business of local TV news will enter its downward slide

Knight Foundation   Five generations of journalists, learning from each other

Sonali Prasad   Climate change storytelling gets multidimensional

Michael W. Wagner   Increasingly fractured, but little bit deliberative

Emily Withrow   The year we kill the news article

Mike Caulfield   Native verification tools for the blue checkmark crowd

Zizi Papacharissi   A president leads, the press follows, reality fades

Kevin D. Grant   The free press stands against authoritarians’ attacks on truth

Jeremy Olshan   All journalism should be service journalism

Anthony Nadler   Clash of Clans: Election Edition

Colleen Shalby   Journalists become media literacy teachers

Matt DeRienzo   Local broadcasters begin to fill the gaps left by newspapers

Kerri Hoffman   Opening closed systems

Tanya Cordrey   Saying no to more good ideas

Nicholas Jackson   What’s left of local gets comfortable with reader support

Don Day   Respect the non-paying audience

Heidi Tworek   The year of positive pushback

Simon Galperin   Journalism becomes more democratic

Victor Pickard   We reclaim a public good

Lauren Duca   The rise of the journalistic influencer

Joshua P. Darr   All that campaign cash will make the media’s problems worse

Nico Gendron   Make better products if you want to reach Gen Z

Kristen Muller   The year we operationalize community engagement

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists get left behind in the industry’s decline

Imaeyen Ibanga   Let’s take it slow

Jonas Kaiser   Russian bots are just today’s slacktivists

Logan Jaffe   You don’t need fancy tools to listen

Carrie Brown-Smith   Engaged journalism: It’s finally happening

Alana Levinson   Brand-backed media gets another look

Annie Rudd   The expanded ambiguity of the news photograph

Cindy Royal   Prepare media students for skills, not job titles

Beena Raghavendran   The year of the local engagement reporter

Kathleen Searles   Pay more attention to attention

Cory Haik   We’re already consuming the future of news — now we have to produce it

Nathalie Malinarich   Betting on loyalty

Rick Berke   Incoming fire from both left and right

John Garrett   It’s the best time in a century to start a local news organization

Brenda P. Salinas   Treating MP3 files like text

Jim Brady   We’ll complain about other people living in bubbles while ignoring our own

Margarita Noriega   The platforms try to figure out what to do with single-subject newsrooms

A.J. Bauer   A fork in the road for conservative media

Peter Bale   Lies get further normalized

Steve Henn   The dawning audio web

Whitney Phillips   A time to question core beliefs

Bill Grueskin   Our ethics codes get an overhaul

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting finally creates another mega-hit show

Christa Scharfenberg   It’s time to make journalism a field that supports and respects women

Lucas Graves   A smarter conversation about how (and why) fact-checking matters

Mario García   Think small (screen)

Elizabeth Dunbar   Frank talk, and then action

Sarah Marshall   The year to learn about news moments

Dannagal G. Young   Let’s disrupt the logic that’s driving Americans apart

Joanne McNeil   A return to blogs (finally? sort of?)

Monica Drake   A renewed focus on misinformation

Nushin Rashidian   Are platforms a bridge or a lifeline?

Jakob Moll   A slow-moving tech backlash among young people

Mariana Moura Santos   The future of journalism is collaborative

Jennifer Brandel   A love letter from the year 2073

Stefanie Murray   Charitable giving goes collaborative

Craig Newmark   Formalizing newsrooms’ battle against disinformation

Jeremy Gilbert and Jarrod Dicker   A call for collaboration between storytelling and tech

Alfred Hermida and Mary Lynn Young   The promise of nonprofit journalism

Madelyn Sanfilippo and Yafit Lev-Aretz   News coverage gets geo-fragmented

Jasmine McNealy   A call for context

Tom Glaisyer   Journalism can emerge newly vibrant and powerful

Geneva Overholser   Death to bothsidesism

Elizabeth Hansen and Jesse Holcomb   Local news initiatives run into a capital shortage

Sarah Stonbely   More people start caring about news inequality

Bill Adair   A Nobel Prize, a Brad Pitt film, and a Taylor Swift song

Laura E. Davis   Know the context your journalism is operating within

Francesco Zaffarano   TikTok without generational prejudice

Meredith Artley   Stronger solidarity among news organizations

Ben Werdmuller   Use the tools of journalism to save it

Joe Amditis   Collaborative journalism takes its rightful place at the table

Hossein Derakhshan   AI can’t conjure up an Errol Morris

Ernie Smith   The death of the industry fad

Cristina Kim   Public media stops trying to serve “everybody”

Marie Gilot   This is fine

Ståle Grut   OSINT journalism goes mainstream

Linda Solomon Wood   Everyone in your organization, moving toward a common goal

Greg Emerson   News apps fall further behind

Mira Lowe   The year of student-powered journalism

Irving Washington   Leadership isn’t something you learn on the job

Carl Bialik   Journalists will try running the whole shop

Juleyka Lantigua   A changing industry amps up podcasters’ ambitions

Jeff Kofman   Speed through technology

Doris Truong   The year of radical salary transparency

Adam Thomas   The silver bullet

Rachel Schallom   The value of push alerts goes beyond open rates

An Xiao Mina   The Forum we wanted, the forum we got

Helen Havlak   Platforms shine a light on original reporting

Richard Tofel   A constraint of the reader-revenue model emerges

Tonya Mosley   The neutrality vs. objectivity game ends

Joni Deutsch   Podcasting unsilences the silent

Nikki Usher   All systems down

Raney Aronson-Rath   News deserts will proliferate — but so will new solutions

Logan Molyneux and Shannon McGregor   Think twice before turning to Twitter

Felix Salmon   Spotify launches a news channel

Heather Bryant   Some kinds of journalism aren’t worth saving

Alice Antheaume   Trade “politics” for “power”

Mary Walter-Brown and Tristan Loper   Power to the people (on your audience team)

Dan Shanoff   Sports media enters the Bronny era

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The business we want, not the business we had

Matthew Pressman   News consumers divide into haves and have-nots

Tamar Charney   From broadcast to bespoke

Talia Stroud   The work of reconnecting starts November 4

Masuma Ahuja   Slower, quieter, more measured and thoughtful

Barbara Gray   Join local libraries on the frontlines of civic engagement

Errin Haines   Race and gender aren’t a 2020 story — they’re the story

Monique Judge   The year to organize, unionize, and fight

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting gets listener relationship management

Brian Moritz   The end of “stick to sports”

Gordon Crovitz   Fighting misinformation requires journalism, not secret algorithms

Millie Tran   Wicked