Nonprofit Journalism in the U.S. May Be a Template for Other Countries

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April 13, 2015; PBS, “IdeaLab”

In a post originally on the International Journalists’ Network and reposted by PBS, blogger Ashley Nguyen reports that nonprofit journalism continues to gradually expand and grow across the globe. She cites several examples:

Direkt36 in Hungary launched earlier this year. A team of Brazilian journalists run Agência Pública in São Paulo. Sheila Coronel founded the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. There’s also the Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London. The list goes on.”

Although the Associated Press, established in 1846, is a nonprofit, such a business model is relatively new to the U.S., although we lead the world with around 100 nonprofit journalism outlets.

The post recounts two recent events. One was hosted by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) and OpenGov Hub, where panelists debated whether the U.S. nonprofit journalism model should be exported elsewhere. Nonprofit journalism initiatives outside the U.S. often emulate ProPublica and the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), well-established models here, because they are independent of the government or closely-tied private interests.

At a CUNY Graduate School of Journalism event, ProPublica President Dick Tofel told the crowd that timing is more important to the success of a nonprofit new site, rather than leadership or concept – he tells the story of his own organization:

“When Paul Steiger founded ProPublica in 2007, there was a significant business crisis of the press, and ProPublica filled an increasing gap in investigative journalism at the opportune time…Certain kinds of journalism [had] been subsidized in the old traditional model by the enormous profits that were swirling around everywhere. When those profits—particularly around 2005—began to recede…those things stopped getting subsidized. What brought most people into nonprofit journalism was that the money wasn’t there to sustain investigative reporting or international reporting for an American audience.”

CPI founder Charles Lewis, another panelist, said that nonprofit journalism has succeeded in the U.S. only with the support of individuals who recognize the importance of information:

“Most of the funding has not come from media organizations. Most funding comes from other foundations who realize if you don’t have information you don’t have community; if you don’t have community, you may have some issues with this thing called democracy.”

He acknowledged that tax laws outside the U.S. are less beneficial for people who want to support nonprofit journalism initiatives.

Tofel said that partnerships with other journalism outlets help immeasurably, citing that fact that the New York Times ran 38 of ProPublica’s articles in the past year alone. The nonprofit journalism website also partners with the Washington Post, This American Life, and NPR.—Larry Kaplan