Posted on December 30, 2009
2009: Philanthropy and the Future of Journalism
PND -- 2009: Philanthropy and the Future of Journalism
Of all the economy-driven stories of the year, the near death — or, as some would have it, suicide — of the newspaper industry may have been the most avidly followed and hotly debated. Needless to say, it was a dismal year for all but a few papers.
By the end of the first quarter, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Philadelphia Inquirer had sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer had stopped publishing a print edition, and the Rocky Mountain News, Colorado's oldest newspaper, had closed its doors entirely. As the recession dragged on and circulation and advertising revenues continued to fall, other newspapers across the country were forced to make layoffs, scale back home delivery, and scramble to find cost-saving measures.
But as bad as it was, media experts seemed to agree that the industry had not bottomed out. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data published in Editor & Publisher magazine — which was shuttered at the end of the year by its parent the Nielsen Co. after 125 years as a going concern — the industry will lose nearly 25 percent of its jobs by 2018.
Such dire projections made it clear that journalism, in order to thrive in the twenty-first century, needs a new business model — and one of the options most frequently mentioned was the not-for-profit model. In March, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced legislation (S. 673) that would allow newspapers to become tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations and operate in a manner similar to public broadcasting stations; in September, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) offered a companion bill (H.R. 3602) in the House, saying that "Unless something is done, and done fast, it's likely that many metropolitan areas may soon have no local daily newspapers — and that would damage our democracy."
Foundations also were looked to in some quarters to provide a solution to the industry's plight — and a number responded. In May, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation president Alberto Ibargüen was one of six media thought leaders to testify before Congress about the future of journalism and how government can help ensure that communities' information needs are met during the transition to new models and platforms. Knight, which under Ibargüen's leadership has invested more than $100 million in projects that could help shape journalism in the digital age, wasn't alone. In June, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation announced the launch of a nonprofit news service dedicated to major health policy issues in the United States; in August, the Chicago Community Trust announced the creation of Community News Matters, an initiative designed to spur the growth of new sources of quality local news and information about the Chicago region; and in September, the California HealthCare Foundation and Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles announced a partnership to provide in-depth, impartial reporting on health policy issues in the state.
Still, while it was clear that foundations could only be part of the solution to the industry's problems — the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard estimated that the cost of endowing every newspaper in the country could run as high as $114 billion — a July report from the Center on Communication Leadership and Policy at USC Annenberg agreed that foundations were likely to continue their support for journalism and journalism-related experiments.
As Center for Public Integrity founder Charles Lewis put it, the future of good journalism may depend on whether "the philanthropic community steps up and embraces this civic moment and crisis and tries to solve it. This is a failure of the market. The market can no longer support news substantially."
As Troubles Mount, Newspaper Industry Reconsiders Business Model (3/05/09)
Senator Proposes Bill to Allow Newspapers to Become Nonprofits (3/27/09)
Kaiser Family Foundation Launches Nonprofit Health Policy News Service (6/06/09)
Foundations Increasingly Support Journalism, Report Finds (7/07/09)
Chicago Community Trust Launches Community News Initiative (8/19/09)
California HealthCare Foundation, Annenberg School for Communication to Partner on New Healthcare Journalism Venture (9/27/09)