WILL FOUNDATIONS START MASSAGING NEWS COVERAGE?
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner has laid off four of its 55 employees, more than 7 percent of its entire staff.
The newspaper is owned by a nonprofit foundation but is operated as a business that supports itself with subscriptions and advertising. But times are tough in the newspaper industry.
Now, the Helen E. Snedden Foundation, which has owned the News-Miner since 2016, is gearing up to apply to the IRS for nonprofit status for the newspaper, so it can accept donations directly and apply for grants.
This month, the Juneau Empire laid off two people from its news staff — the staff photographer and the sports reporter. The news staff is down to four from a high of 20 or more in the 1990s. Last year, it stopped printing on Mondays and shuttered the Capital City Weekly, which it owns, because it was competing with the daily paper.
The Homer Tribune folded last year, leaving that community with one weekly newspaper.
But the News-Miner may survive under its new nonprofit model with the help of major grants.
“Community support could eventually come through an additional means. The company will be applying to the Internal Revenue Service this year to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation as a community asset, which could open the possibility of receiving grants and other types of financial support,” the News-Miner wrote to its readers.
According to the Pew Research Center, total U.S. daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) in 2018 was 28.6 million for weekday and 30.8 million for Sunday, down 8 percent and 9 percent respectively, from 2017.
Weekday print circulation decreased 12 percent and Sunday print circulation decreased 13 percent in one year.
With that trend having continued and no relief in sight, last year the Salt Lake City Tribune became the largest newspaper yet to seek 501(c)(3) status, a request that was approved by the IRS in October.
The Tampa Bay Times has been owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute, and the Philadelphia Inquirer is owned by the Lenfest Institute. Like the News-Miner, they have remained for-profit entities owned by Foundations.
Nonprofit foundations are also driving the news narrative. A series on crime and lawlessness in Alaska is now in its second year at the Anchorage Daily News, with funding from ProPublica, which itself receives a large portion of its support from the Sandler Foundation. The Sandler Foundation supports numerous liberal political causes, including the Center for American Progress, which is pushing the impeachment narrative, and anti-Trump/anti-oil messaging. ProPublica does not fit the mold of a more neutral news organization, such as Associated Press or Reuters.
The role of foundations in influencing news coverage has some journalists skeptical of the strings that are attached. But their very jobs increasingly depend on the kindness of strangers: Journalism philanthropy has nearly quadrupled since 2009, according to Nieman Labs. The Institute for Nonprofit News reported that 43 percent of its members’ revenue now comes from foundations.