‘Ideological but Respected’ Mother Jones and the Exploding Field of Nonprofit News

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September 20, 2012; Source: New York Times

Most of our readers know that it was the magazine Mother Jones that broke the story about Mitt Romney’s writing off of the 47 percent of America that in his opinion (albeit “inelegantly stated”) are slackers, tax deadbeats, receiving government handouts, and seeing themselves as victims. In the 24 hours following publication of the story its site received more than 2 million pageviews, twice what they had ever before received in a day.

The fact that those receiving government assistance tend to bunch up in red states and that many of those to whom he is referring are veterans or elderly … well, it was a potentially very costly (for Romney) piece of video that MJ posted.

We don’t know if our readers also know that Mother Jones, along with an increasing number of other news sites is a nonprofit. With just 200,000 subscribers, it is older than many at 36, and it established itself when it was not as difficult to get nonprofit status as a journalism site. The IRS has been holding applications of many recent journalism applicants for tax-exempt status because their financial models too closely resemble those of for-profit journalism sites. The IRS requires organizations to demonstrate that they are organized and operated for an educational or charitable purpose beyond disseminating news to the public like a traditional newspaper, notes Nieman Lab. (See the Citizen Media Law site for much more detail on this.)

Be that as it may, Mother Jones plays a valuable role in civil society in its reporting, which comes from a point of view unabashedly left of center. Perhaps we as a sector should pay more attention to and be louder in support of the unquestionable value of journalism to civic life and embrace it as part and parcel of who we are. It’s a little confounding that the IRS decision about these entities should be held up because their business models resemble for-profits in the same field (there are many other fields that are inclusive of both and have business models similar to one another) or because we do not see investigative reporting or dissemination of news as a public service. Neither argument really holds together.

Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, said , “Mother Jones seems to live in a zone where it’s respected. It’s obviously ideological. But it’s respected.” –Ruth McCambridge

  • Joel Blackwell

    What separates and elevates the ideological into the useful is information as compared with opinion. Many bloggers, and everyone else on the planet, have strong opinions. However, the ones that rise into the public consciousness are those also providing truthful, relevant information. Eventually the public consumes information with an eye on the interest of the provider, their agenda and also weighs factual content (Yes, people also seek affirmation e.g. MSNBC And FOX). To lift yourself and your organization out of the clamor of voices, develop new factual information, a role historically assigned to “journalism” that is still valued.

  • Excuse me

    “However, the ones that rise into the public consciousness are those also providing truthful, relevant information.”

    I wish this were true, but the success of the Breitbart, Drudge, etc. leads me to believe otherwise.

  • Maurice Blanchette

    I think Mother Jones is providing the public with very valuable information. In an age where media presentations are refined to a point where manipulation of the public iscommon, there is a great need for this type of reporting.

    From what i can surmise, congratulations for the video. It was a simple presentation of the facts, no an opinion presented as a fact.

    way to go