Licata’s committee how a community coalition is pushing legislation to
turn her city’s struggling privately owned paper into a “low profit”
L3C community-owned operation.
That’s a tax term for a new hybrid business model that meets the
IRS’s definition of a charity, but operates like a for-profit
corporation. Vermont became the first state to authorize L3Cs last
year, and Michigan and North Carolina are moving toward their own
versions of the model. Vermont’s Secretary of State’s office offers
this description: “The basic purpose of the L3C is to signal to
foundations and donor-directed funds that entities formed under this
provision intend to conduct their activities in a way that would
qualify as program-related investments.”
In other words, donating to an L3C would enable private foundations
to meet the IRS’s charitable-giving requirements. The Seattle area is
awash with this sort of private foundation. An L3C could raise cash
from such groups to repair a historic building that can’t generate
enough profit from rent to pay for the renovations. Or, says newspaper
industry consultant Lee Egerstrom, a newspaper “with stakeholders that
include the community that depends on reliable media as well as the
paper’s unions” could use its L3C status to tap non-profit donors. When
Egerstrom pitched the L3C idea at a Newspaper Guild conference earlier
this month in Maryland, union representatives from the Seattle Times
Co.’s struggling Blethen Maine papers showed up to listen.
I’m sorry it’s taken this many papers getting this close to the edge for people to start listening to what people on the ground in the newsrooms have been saying for years: It’s the profit margins, stupid. It’s not redesigns and readership and focus groups and the length of stories and all the other crap people tweak because it can be tweaked, because reporters have a sense of mission and will do whatever it takes to get the job done if they’re told this is the job.
This is hard to work out to anybody who hasn’t been there, but you get indoctrinated with this “whatever, I’ll sleep later, the job is its reward, do what you have to do to get the win” mentality in a newsroom, and management takes advantage of that by telling you it’s you, change what you’re writing, change how you’re writing, get the job done for us, save the newspaper the way you saved the day by getting that story last week.
I’m sorry it’s taken us this long to get to the point where people are finally ready to talk about the money and where it’s been going and where it should go. And how much of it we can realistically expect.