Nonprofit status has become a common business model for many news organizations just starting out. That magic “501(c)(3)” on an About page doesn’t solve all a publisher’s problems by any means — but it opens up new avenues of funding, communicates intent to audiences, and orients the organization toward a common cause.
Now that appeal is starting to draw more established news organizations, too.
The 148-year-old Salt Lake Tribune announced Tuesday that it is attempting to transform itself into a nonprofit news organization — a move no other major newspaper has made and which may draw IRS scrutiny.
There are a number of other newspapers that benefit from a nonprofit-like status by virtue of being for-profits owned by nonprofits. But they’re not nonprofits themselves, as the Tribune’s owners are proposing. (emphasis added)
Neiman Lab explores the possibilities and difficulties facing the possible transition.
The Salt Lake Tribune and crosstown rival (and JOA partner) Deseret News report.
Utah Policy takes a look at the inherent problems facing a 501(c)(3) newspaper.
Utah Policy brings it close to home with this problem:
Foundation-owned newspapers really can’t get involved in advocacy politics, so Huntsman says it’s likely the Tribune won’t be able to endorse political candidates.
But what about editorially endorsing public issues, like ballot propositions, bond elections, or even votes on changing local forms of governments?
Could the Tribune editorial page be neutered, could columnists or editorial cartoonists find that they can’t comment on major issues or individuals of the day?
The Tribune is now seen as a progressive, Democratic-leaning news/editorial product.
Editorial cartoonist Pat Bagley is brilliant in lampooning Republican President Donald Trump, congressional Republicans and the Utah Legislature.
Even at times the LDS Church.
Will potential Tribune Foundation donors want to be associated with such hardnosed political displays?
How will its liberal readers respond to a foundation-owned newspaper that can’t, or won’t, be advocates like it once was?
The Balance details some non-profit differences:
A 501(c)(3) and a 501(c)(4) are very similar but are ruled by different standards when it comes to political activity such as lobbying…
A 501(c)(3), on the other hand, is not allowed to engage in political activity and only limited lobbying.
The organization can engage in general voter education about issues, even those that could affect its cause, as long as all points of view are represented. A forum with all candidates or both sides of a ballot initiative are examples of acceptable political activity.
So Pat Bagley could continue as Tribune political cartoonist for The Tribune as long as they also hired a conservative cartoonist (or, more likely, buy an opposing syndicated viewpoint).
Or so it seems.
[If they carried Candorville on the comics page, would a Mallard Fillmore alternative be mandatory?]
Anyway, the wheels of government move slowly and it will be 2020,
at the earliest, for any preliminary decisions being made public.