The Beginnings of a Non-Profit Journalism Manifesto

While we’re very interested in business and very interested in journalism, we have concluded that serious journalism is a lousy business and that  business principles are lousy for serious journalism.  Clergymen are fond of saying that when you mix politics and religion you get politics.  The mix of serious journalism and business is even worse:  it yields businesses that aren’t worth investing in.    Accordingly, the woes of newspaper industry remind us of the great Woody Allen line:  “it’s not that your problems aren’t serious; it’s just that they’re not very interesting.”


We’re extremely fond of markets.  But having poked around in both the for-profit and non-profit aspects of the journalism world for the last two years or so, we’ve adopted a very strong point of view.   Serious-minded, public service journalism is a public good.  By definition, we can’t expect markets to provide public goods in sufficient quantities.  Said differently, the sad and declining state of public interest journalism today represents a market failure.


3 Responses to The Beginnings of a Non-Profit Journalism Manifesto

  1. […] long written off as impractical, improbable and a bit naive. But some smart people are taking a similar tack in the local space. Do they know something I […]

  2. jsfwcz says:

    There is a growing eco system of non profit news organizations. In addition to NPR with reportedly 22 million users, there are any number of expert based research organizations that do the kind of investigative reporting that was so expensive for an advertising supported business model. The hard part is translating their reports to regular people. That becomes the journalists real added value.

    My take is that this new development means that newspapers can concentrate on editing and printing and delivering physical product. The new tech in newspaper software makes delivering customized print content well defined. The hard part of the job is to know the reader well enough to be able to filter the signal from the noise.

    Consider a business organization without the overhead of a large news staff. Then consider the publication of a 24 page physical product. 3 pages of “table of contents” to the web. 3 pages of in depth local reporting in print, and 18 pages of local advertising. No wire service feeds. No pretense at covering “breaking” news that is covered better on the web.

    I can’t figure out why that wouldn’t work.

    • johndthornton says:

      I generally like the idea. Except that it’s gotta be transitional; people under 25 will just never read a physical paper, period. And with newspaper revenues down 30+% 07-09 (and in my opinion not coming back), many of them will start to question the economics of print, period. And if you’re talking about think tanks as the “any number,” I guess that’s ok so far as it goes. But I have a hard time with the idea that the role of the journalists of the future is to create “The Week” for think tank pieces.

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