Saturday, July 18, 2009

NYT Rules Out Nonprofit Status

Poynter Online's Bill Mitchell has a new post in which he reports that the New York Times is considering taking foundation support to help underwrite some of its news-gathering costs - presumably stories that require extensive travel or investigative resources.

But the big news from Mitchell's interview with Times AME/standards editor Craig Whitney may have been buried in the seventh graf, where Whitney flatly rules out the idea of converting the Times into a nonprofit corporation of some sort. The Times has "no desire to become a nonprofit corporation," Mitchell quotes Whitney as saying.

This is news because no small amount of time and energy has gone into analyzing how the Times and the Times-owned Boston Globe might make the leap from for-profit to nonprofit status. Perhaps the most thorough examination was conducted by Penny Abernathy of UNC-Chapel Hill. Her paper, presented at a conference at Duke University in May, lays out four potential paths for the Times - all of which have significant downsides.

Whitney's statement - which I take as an accurate reflection of the Times' ownership view - underscores the difficulty of applying new operating rules to an old business. I think it also provides fresh proof that newspaper owners, no matter how well intentioned, feel compelled to harvest what profits they can by cutting, cutting, cutting utnil there's nothing left to cut.

But at the same time, Whtiney's statement does highlight the potential for newspapers to help create hybrid business models that allow them to do the enterprise and investigative reporting that is vanishing with every newsroom layoff. Will hybrids solve all of the newspaper industry's problems? Of course not. But they might help them preserve journalistic capacity until a sustainable model can emerge.

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