Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Nonprofit journalism is the industry's solution

As the end of the golden age of print journalism draws near, the success of not-for-profit online publications that have recently proliferated offers some relief to the industry. Perhaps this is the direction journalism is heading in: one where the organization is funded largely or entirely by donations and private and public funding, all of which are independent of advertisement. This model of would make the media privately owned, and no longer slave to Wall Street. Nonprofits have long played an important role in media, with several influential publications like NPR, Union Leader, and older time Associated Press are already proving the possible success of this model. A common concern regarding the privatization of media is the question of, who will now control the news agenda?

The foundations that support and fund it?

The corporations sponsoring the newspaper?

Would this be any different than newspapers being controlled by the corporations who bought advertisement?

While these questions are unanswered in the industry’s current state, there are several successful tips that media transitioning from print could take from the online powerhouses of NPR and Texas Tribune that could secure their sustainability online.

1. Having a startup mentality that is more business and revenue driven in the beginning. Having a focus on self-sufficiency to decrease future reliance on major foundations and wealthy patrons increases the chance for the organization’s later financial stability.

2. The publication needs to adapt, embrace, and be responsive to new technology. Newspapers failed keep pace with technology. The successful media outlets are the ones who currently have active Twitter accounts, fans on Facebook, and iPhone applications.

3. Online publications need to take advantage of the web’s ability to make content more interactive. There should be a place for readers to comment, an editorial board, multimedia packages, and photo galleries. Can users share it via e-mail? Can they post it on their Facebook wall? Can they Tweet it?

4. Consider selecting a niche. Take a lesson from the Texas Tribune, whose in-depth coverage of solely politics and policy has garnered it many loyal readers. It’s difficult to provide in-depth coverage of everything, and many publications won’t have the staff size to do.

The nonprofit might not be suitable for all news organizations, but it at least offers an alternative to those who are struggling to stay afloat because of the internet.

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