I was going totake this apart— Nonprofit news sites don’t make money! They can’t make money! They pay their editors too much! Or too little! Their names suck! People suck! — and then I read into the comments and discovered smart people had it mostly taken care of. Which is good, because goddamn, people:
You’ve only focused on one slice of the nonprofit news world. What
about financially healthy institutions that set up nonprofit news
enterprises as off-shoots of their main business? Think about Kaiser
Health News — an example of a for-profit institution doing nonprofit
news. Or Human Rights Watch, where I work. We’re hiring award-winning
journalists and winning webbys for repackaging the material that our
researchers collect all over the world. And we have more than 70
researchers — more than the NYTimes and the WashPost have foreign
correspondents, put together. You can call it journalism, or you can
call it something else, but we’re helping to keep the American public
informed. And we ain’t making a profit.
Non-profit news operations have been around for centuries. Non-profit newspapers covered the Spanish American War. The wankery happening right now is about a series of investigative reporting and local reporting sites, which is fine if that’s what you want to yob off about, but at least make the distinction so it sounds like you know what you’re talking about.
Another commenter points out, in response to a bit about how non-profits rely on magic money (tell that to the ones I volunteer for, which take in cash for everything from admission to services) which will never materialize, that non-profit newspapers or news sites are in fact allowed to accept advertising, web or otherwise. That some have set themselves up not to do so or haven’t done so yet doesn’t mean it’s forbidden or impossible. The income disclosure requirements are just a little different, and even that varies state to state.
I do want to address this, though:
Because in the old-fashioned terrestrial printing or broadcasting models, the organizations could always get a base audiencejust by virtue of the fact they existed.
The magazines were on the newsstand, in the newspaper boxes on the
street, on peoples’ doorsteps; the TV or radio stations were right
there to be stumbled upon by potentials viewers or listeners.
On the web there is no de facto or built-in audience. You have to come up with something to draw attention to yourself.
Erm. Newspapers stopped being relevant to their communities when they stopped reminding their communities they existed, when they sat back and took for granted that their audience would pick them up on the way to the train. Newspapers for decades spent money on billboards and train ads and goddamn newspaper boys yelling headlines on the corners because they needed to market themselves. I’ve made the point many, many times that the Internet doesn’t reduce this need, but to say it only exists on the Internet, that you don’t need to build an audience for everything, is just incorrect.
Case in point: My second newspaper job out of school was with a small suburban daily in an area experiencing wild population growth. Suburbs popping up all over. We couldn’t figure out why our circulation was declining and our competitor’s was growing until we figured out that they had a deal with area developers where if you bought a house, you also got a subscription. They had stacks of papers and flyers in every real estate office.
People move into and out of communities big and small all the time. If you don’t remind people who you are and why you exist, you’re dead. As many, many papers now are, and the marketing problem is a big part of the why.
By this logic, TV shows don’t need to throw up glossy ads or garner free publicity (another
thing Wyman ignores) because they’re just there, on the TV, and people
will catch them as they scroll through the channels. Newspapers have to do things to draw attention to themselves as well. If they didn’t, would we really see them sponsoring every community festival all summer long in an effort to get their names out there?
You can read the original for more fun stuff, like how non-profits are allergic to sex (oh, the stories I could tell) and excitement, and how non-profits never break even or even turn a profit.