One model being thrown around to save newspapers is allowing them to go non-for-profit, supported by foundations in a similar fashion to Universities. ProPublica is one of the first news organizations to go this route.
Founded by Herbert and Marion Sandler (former chief executives of the Golden West Financial Corporation) and run my Paul Steiger, former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, ProPublica is a non-profit newsroom that focuses on stories that have, what they call, “moral force.” These are investigative pieces that seek to uncover wrongs perpetrated against the weak by those in power.
They believe that, “Investigative journalism is at risk. Many news organizations have increasingly come to see it as a luxury. Today’s investigative reporters lack resources: Time and budget constraints are curbing the ability of journalists not specifically designated ‘investigative’ to do this kind of reporting in addition to their regular beats. This is therefore a moment when new models are necessary to carry forward some of the great work of journalism in the public interest that is such an integral part of self-government, and thus an important bulwark of our democracy.”
They have a newsroom with 32 journalists dedicated to investigations, and are independently funded by The Sandler Foundation as well as a number of other charitable organizations. As a non-for-profit they have the advantage of not being forced to take advertising for support and thus avoid many of the questions that have been brought up to traditional newspapers in the past about how beholden their reporting is to those who support them. They are, however, criticized because many of their donors, including the Sandlers themselves, are left-leaning politically.
There is a question as to whether this type of model scales and whether newsrooms across the country could find wealthy sponsors willing to support their efforts – even if they can, what effect would that have on the type of news that is produced?