Who'd have guessed it? While the nonprofit model has been getting lots of attention lately as a haven for socially responsible journalism (see links in the right hand column of this blog), a network of community-based journalism nonprofits has been covering local schools and higher education since AOL was the cool way to go online.
One such nonprofit, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, has been digging up stories and holding officials to account since 1994. Now largely focused on its online presence, the Notebook still puts out a quarterly print magazine fice times a year.
The Notebook recently got a nice mention in the New York Times Magazine, in which author Michael Sokolove calls Notebook editor Paul Socolar "something like the journalist of the future. He is earnest, dedicated to a cause, foundation-financed and, to this point, read by a narrow audience."
The Knight Foundation apparently agrees. In December 2008, it gave a $200,000 grant to the Notebook "to take the magazine digital and add breaking news and user-generated content from a larger audience."
Others are joining in. Two thousand miles away, Education News Colorado began covering higher ed almost two years ago. "There are three of us working on the site full-time, with over 50 years of newspaper journalism among us," editor Alan Gottlieb told me in an email.
But will these nonprofits replace newspapers? Probably not any time soon, concludes the Times Magazine article, What’s a Big City Without a Newspaper? While it says that the Notebook "breaks stories and is notably well written," it also notes that "a broad audience and impact, two goals of traditional journalism, have been hard to attain."