November 14, 2008

A nonprofit Bristol Press? It could work.

At first I thought this one was pretty unlikely, but I'm not so sure anymore.
The simple reality is that providing a quality community newspaper is expensive. Profits are still possible, of course, but they're never going to roll in at the astronomical rate that publishers of yore routinely counted on.
But if a newspaper didn't have to make money? What if it only had to break even or perhaps a bit better? Could it be that a newspaper whose sole mission was to provide the news to the community could thrive?
I think so.
A nonprofit newspaper, or a paper owned by a nonprofit, would be liberated from the necessity of maximizing income. It couldn't lose money, of course, because nonprofits are not quite the same as no-profits. They die if they run short of cash just like any other business entity.
But a paper run as a community service by a nonprofit would have a few advantages that a for profit paper doesn't have.
For one, it can seek donations, not just subscriptions and advertising money, just like National Public Radio or Connecticut Public Television is always doing. I understand most people wouldn't give, but some would, especially if it was tax deductible, effectively making the government an unobtrusive partner in the process.
It could perhaps seek sponsors to help defray the cost of reporting iniatives, just the way companies help NPR tackle extra environmental journalism or business coverage.
A nonprofit paper would also have an advantage. It wouldn't need to pay taxes, except payroll-type charges. That's one big expense that a regular paper has to fork over, but a nonprofit doesn't, effectively making it a lot easier to break even.
People would come, perhaps, to see a nonprofit paper that existed only to serve the community as a unique resource in a way that they probably couldn't imagine with a daily owned by some distant and distracted corporation. It would a part of the community far more directly than any traditional business can be, since all of them, even those run by the most generous people, exist in the end to make money.
A nonprofit could also collect grants from the government that a regular old newspaper never could, because of the special role as a public service that all nonprofits carry. There might be some cash to help at least with getting it off the ground, which might be all it takes.
I haven't thought it all through yet, but it does strike me as more than a pipe dream. Why not make a Bristol daily -- or near daily -- a public service institution with a simple mission: to provide the news people need?
Anybody out there listening? Anybody with a hankering to prove that journalism in America doesn't have to die? To show that a new model might carry us into a brighter future?
I know, as we all do, that someday we'll do all of this electronically, that everything will be online in some way, just like Jackie and I did with The Tattoo. But a nonprofit model can allow that transition to happen more smoothly and seamlessly over the course of time.
I'm not sure it can work in any community, but I am sure it would work in Bristol. This town has a diverse population -- as the newly approved Buddhist temple surely shows -- and a history of innovation, as everything from the clock industry to ESPN reinforces. It can lead the way to a new journalism for this century.

Update on Saturday afternoon:
There are nonprofit news organizations around already, including the Associated Press itself.
Others include The Christian Science Monitor, the BBC, The Day in New London, The Guardian in England, the St. Petersburg Times and Harper's magazine.
So it can be done successfully.
*******
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am pleasantly and motivationally intrigued by this concept and idea Steve. Could this work in Bristol? I don't know, but the thought process of going in this direction with the Bristol Press (buggy whip company) is intellectually stimulating to say the least. I like this type of "think tank" out of the box thinking. I personally think we should save the Press at all costs. I would be willing to serve on a community based panel to explore all avenues.

Anonymous said...

Steve, in one sense, the reason for the paper's demise is that, evidently, IT HAS BEEN a NON-PROFIT.

Anonymous said...

It is non profit already!

Steve Collins said...

Yeah, I know the paper only broke even during the most recent quarter. But I believe that as a nonprofit it could be put out at a lower cost, by moving its offices mostly, and with fewer permanent expenses, such as taxes.
It might also have new avenues of revenue, as I outlined.
This paper can continue its core mission if we can just find a way to get the business side of things right. I recognize, of course, that it can't go on into the future if it loses money consistently.

Make a Plan said...

Great idea, Steve!

As an Officer in one non-profit, and a board member in another, I can tell you unequivocally that this can work. The entity could form partnerships with other non-profits, and even reach out to local schools, and Tunxis Community College to mentor aspiring youth who have an interest in Journalism.

This idea must be made into a plan without delay.

YES WE CAN!

HUH ????? said...

with fewer permanent expenses, such as taxes.
````````````````````````

How the he!! are we going to pay for the unions greed and corruption w/o the tax revenue ???

Steve Collins said...

The more I think about it, the more I think this is probably the best avenue to pursue unless that white knight appears. It offers hope for the long-term preservation of the paper.

Anonymous said...

Interesting idea: Change the basic business model.

Are there any examples where this idea has been utilized to support any type of publication?
A magazine or a weekly?

Anonymous said...

Steve, have you approached the Republican Party?

Between Johnson, Yard, they have all answers, and money too.

Might start a new trend.

Anonymous said...

The idea is good, but the paper will have to change a lot in order to attract contributions as a non-profit. It is totally different than a for-profit business. Its existence will depend on keeping the people with the money happy.

Steve Collins said...

Here's an interesting report on nonprofit journalism, which covers some of the issues involved:

http://www.carnegie.org/reporter/11/nonprofjourn/index.html

There are a handful of nonprofit newspapers operating in bigger cities, including the online New Haven Independent, but as far as I can tell they are mostly competing with existing daily print papers.
In Bristol, it would be stepping into the role held by the existing daily newspaper, a more interesting scenario and more telling as to whether the model really can work.
I like the idea of having the paper working with schools and colleges in the area -- perhaps because Jackie and I already do that, and love it. I can see a far broader community paper, particularly online, that should pull in more readers of all ages than the Press can with its skimpy news budget and profit-driven pressures.

Steve Collins said...

That link didn't show up right on my screen. Here it is again, with break in the line that you need to take out:
http://www.carnegie.org/reporter/11/nonprofjourn/
index.html

Anonymous said...

How about Johns Leone to be CEO?

He has time now.

Anonymous said...

Let's just let Leone retire.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you're trying, Steve. Is anyone else?

Anonymous said...

Steve, I understand your concern over the press closing it's doors and as a result, you and Jackie losing your jobs, but I think that you are starting to think out of desperation instead of logic.

I'm sure that if this was a viable route, someone would have pursued it sooner.

Steve Collins said...

Why would someone have pursued turning the Press into a nonprofit? The JRC certainly has no interest in doing that, only the community as a whole does.

Anonymous said...

Get a Barne$$$$$$$ to buy it.

Anonymous said...

Great idea! Let's do it!!

Anonymous said...

The "Save the Bristol Press" Facebook group has 260 members. Hopefully that will lead to something.

http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/facebook?ref=pf

Adam said...

My hope is that the Facebook group can reach at least 1,000 before Christmas.
I think that would be a resounding show of support from people of all ages and from all parts of the country that local journalism means something and is worth fighting for.

-Adam Benson

Anonymous said...

It's a sign of the times. There's nothing that can be done about it. Sad, yes...but true.


There are quite a few businesses closing it's doors or laying off significant percentages of their staff. A newspaper is not exempt from this kind of situation. Even the Courant, which is bigger than the press has had it's rocky road.

Stop dwelling and just accept it and move on.

Anonymous said...

Why should we just accept something that can be reversed and kept alive? That kind of resignation is what leads to cities dying and people losing things that matters to them.
You don't just throw up your hands when pressed against the wall. That's a ridiculous and childish attitude.
Giving in to corporate greed is the worst thing that could possibly happen. Is that the lesson you teach your children? That when things get hard you just move on and accept them?
Pathetic.

Anonymous said...

"Giving in to corporate greed"? The paper is not making money; the responsible thing to do is sell or close it. That's not greed.

Greed is wanting everything, and wanting it handed to you. That is more descriptive of some other people.

Anonymous said...

Actually, corporate greed is raping a paper of everything that once made it great and cutting corners anywhere you can to keep your bottom line steady.
And then, when no more blood is left to squeeze out of the rock, you throw the corpse back into the community.
If I'm not mistaken, the Press was hugely profitable for JRC just a few years ago, before "cost-saving" measures were put in place that wound up driving it into the ground.
If that's not "corporate greed," than nothing is. And that makes it even more indefensible to just accept the paper's death.

Anonymous said...

You could blame the owners, or you could look to the reporters and editors, or you could say the internet is cutting into sales. No matter where you point the finger, it's not making enough money, and that's the bottom line.

The BP would have to change in so many ways to succeed. It would be a lot of work for some one, but it could be worth it to the new owner and certainly to the community.

Reality Hurtz said...

Maybe it's just that readers have decided to go eleswhere for their facts .

The liberal print media has created some much distrust in their coverage that folks can no longer afford to waste their money knowing the stories are so slanted .

Just a suggestion Stenen . Have a chat with your editor and try to convince him to let you write a truthful story on the history of the slanted coverage of the last presidential election before the doors close .

Then , at least you will be able to walk away with your head held high .

Me said...

What bias? The Press barely covered the presidential race at all.
As I think back on the election, we had no stories at all about the Obama and almost nothing about McCain. We interviewed some Republicans at the GOP convention, but never found anyone who was at the Democratic one.
I might be forgetting something, but where was the bias? I'm genuinely curious why you keep saying we were so biased. Show me the evidence. I think you're ascribing something to the Press that you really feel about the media as a whole. We're only responsible for what we do, you know, and I think that if anybody's got a fair complaint about our presidential race coverage during 2008, it's the Democrats.

Bill Stortz said...

Interesting article in todays New York Times (11-18).

Web Sites That Dig For News Rise as Community Watchdogs