In his column today, James Rainey of the L.A. Times said he received the following message from a newspaper colleague:
"This makes me so angry. It's humiliating ... Let us succeed or fail, but as a business, not a charity."
This is a reflexive, go-down-with-the-ship reaction - not strategic thinking. And I'm afraid it remains the dominant mindset even among some of the best newspapers in the country.
True, a 501(c)3 nonprofit is defined by the IRS as a "charitable organization," but that doesn't mean journalists should be on street corners carrying cups to gather spare change.
Rather, they would do well to take advantage of the laws and culture that govern the nonprofit sector - and use them only to the extent they help produce great journalism. Not every newspaper needs to re-incorporate as a 501(c)3. But why shouldn't it partner with a Kaiser Health News, a ProPublica or - better yet - spin off its own nonprofit partner? By their very definition, nonprofits put mission ahead of money. What better way to produce socially responsible journalism?
The great asset of the nonprofit sector is its creativity - something, it seems, journalists and their publishers could use even more of these days. As Rainey concludes in his column:
Bless our pals in the U.S. Senate for their kind words. But when it comes to saving the news business, we're probably going to have to figure it out for ourselves.