Another Daily Paper Adopts Nonprofit Status and Renewed Civic Focus

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Fairbanks-paper

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / Jay Cross

December 27, 2015; Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Another newspaper in America is “going nonprofit.” This time, it’s the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, a 112-year-old paper serving Alaska’s second-largest city (population 31,500).

The paper is being sold to the Helen E. Snedden Foundation, a Fairbanks-based nonprofit organization. The change in ownership will return the paper to local control for the first time in more than 20 years.

A recent editorial in the News-Miner asks, “What will this mean for the paper, its employees and the Fairbanks community?” So far, it says few changes have been identified.

The Snedden Foundation has a long history in the Fairbanks area and with the News-Miner. C.W. Snedden bought the paper in 1950 and owned it for 40 years. Although he and his wife, Helen, bought it as an investment they planned to profit from, they “became intrigued with the paper and its possibilities, as well as the possibilities of Alaska,” and eventually reversed the News-Miner’s editorial opposition to statehood in the 1950s, which bolstered the movement toward Alaska becoming the nation’s 49th state in 1959.

The Snedden family sold the paper in 1992 to the Denver-based Media NewsGroup, one of the largest in the nation, which is taking the News-Miner full circle by selling it back to the foundation set up by Helen Snedden in the years prior to her death in 2012.

The editorial says that “the effects on the paper’s content are likely to be relatively minor,” pointing out that the Foundation’s trustee is a former News-Miner employee and well-known in the Fairbanks community. However, the editorial points out that the paper is likely to step up its local civic engagement, such as increased internship opportunities for University of Alaska Fairbanks journalism students.

One big change—since IRS law prohibits nonprofits from supporting political candidates, the News-Miner will no longer endorse candidates for office in its editorials. However, the editorial points out that endorsements have only been made “a handful of times.”

“This doesn’t, however, mean the paper won’t be able to advocate for causes and issues important to the community [which is permitted by the IRS],” the editorial goes on to say. “After all, it was C.W. Snedden himself who made the decision to throw the paper’s weight behind statehood. With a return to local ownership, the News-Miner should still be the same newspaper that has grown up with the Interior community and one that will continue to grow and evolve with Fairbanks.”—Larry Kaplan