The phenomenal rise of online journalism has led to a marked decrease in circulation and advertising revenues of traditional print media. As a result, a number of newspapers and magazines have even been forced to declare bankruptcy.
As journalism is a vital component of a democratic society, traditional print media outlets continue to search for alternatives to online journalism. One such alternative that is gaining popularity is non-profit journalism. Also referred to as “not-for-profit” journalism or “think-tank” journalism, non-profit journalism is simply journalism practiced by a non-profit organization rather than by a for-profit business. The purpose of non-profit journalism is to serve the public interest without needing to worry about profit, dividends or debt. Private donations and grant foundations usually are the means by which non-profit journalism groups are able to pay their expenses.
On the surface, non-profit journalism might appear to be a new trend. This is far from the case. Five newspapers in New York united in 1846 in an effort to share reports about the Mexican-American War. The result was the creation of the Associated Press, an organization that today remains a non-profit cooperative. Other popular contemporary non-profit journalism organizations include National Public Radio, The Christian Science Monitor, Mother Jones, The Huffington Post and Watchdog.org.
Because non-profit journalism outlets don’t have to answer to shareholders or major commercial advertisers, they can enjoy greater journalistic freedom. They don’t need to worry about offending potential advertisers and thus are freer to express opinions. The foundations and donors that contribute to non-profits often share the same political ideology as the media group. Some non-profit outlets even concentrate on a particular issue or cause.
The initial grant offered to a non-profit media organization is often large and helps get the outlet off to a promising start. However, once the grant expires, the organization can potentially be faced with dwindling resources if the personnel lack the business expertise needed to keep the outlet active long term. In fact, non-profit news organizations tend to cite their greatest staffing needs in the areas of business, fundraising and marketing as opposed to editorial staffing.
A majority of non-profit journalism organizations have staffs of five or fewer full-time paid employees. Most also admit that their staffs devote over half their time at work to editorial duties. Thus, the essential tasks of marketing and fundraising are often overlooked.
A passion for their cause fuels the optimism for modern non-profit journalism organizations. As dedicated journalists seek alternatives to mainstream and online media, there remains the hope that non-profit journalism can find a business model that effectively utilizes fundraising and marketing methods but at the same time can concentrate on its editorial mission.