Salt Lake Tribune Goes 501(c)(3) Status Nonprofit

Nieman Lab reports:

It was a “happy surprise,” Fraser Nelson said, when The Salt Lake Tribune received a letter from the IRS on Friday giving the 148-year-old news outlet nonprofit 501(c)(3) status — no questions asked.

A final verdict on whether the Tribune could become the first legacy newspaper in the U.S. to go fully nonprofit wasn’t expected until early 2020…

This approval opens the doors for many more commercial legacy newspapers to seek tax-deductible status and philanthropic funding — a potential lifeline for local news outlets whose owners agree to give up control.

Christine Schmidt’s Nieman Lab in-depth report.

Some excerpts:

“Without a lot of feedback from the IRS, we’re grateful that we have a pretty blank slate,” Nelson said. “We want to make sure we’re making decision that make sense for us as an institutions, make sure they are in context of the larger national — what this means for other papers and for journalism generally.”

Reminder: “Nonprofit” doesn’t mean “no business plan.” Nonprofit journalism in general has seen an remarkable boom over the past ten years, but the outlets still need to invest in their business and fundraising operations to sustain the editorial operations.

The Tribune also needs to detangle itself from its business relationship with the other Salt Lake newspaper, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints-owned Deseret News. They’re currently part of a joint-operating agreement that strongly favors the Deseret News and will expire next year … With this change, Salt Lake City will be home to what must be the least commercially oriented local news scene in the country — two daily newspapers, one owned by a church, the other run as a nonprofit.

But “political activity” — a no-no for 501(c)(3)s — can mean more than just election-time endorsement slates, Hermes had warned in June; this is the kind of item that can be very curiously interpreted. He emailed me his take Monday morning: It remains possible, for example, that the subjects of a newspaper’s coverage — particularly political figures who are displeased by stories perceived as negative — could complain to the IRS that the paper’s reporting runs afoul of the candidate endorsements rule even though the paper does not make formal endorsements.

The Nieman Lab story is a great explanation of what’s going down.

The Salt Lake Tribune has its own story about the new business model.

For us a most important aspect is that Pat Bagley remains as editorial cartoonist!

Jennifer Napier-Pearce will continue to serve as The Tribune’s editor. She says readers will likely notice little change to The Tribune’s journalism.

“We’ll still have [editorial cartoonist Pat] Bagley, we’ll still have sports analysis and we’ll still have all the hard-hitting investigative reporting Tribune readers have come to expect and rely on from The Tribune.”