Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tough Times For News Nonprofits

Some say they're the future of journalism. Maybe. But first they have to survive.

The for-profit press isn't the only kind taking a hit these days. National Public Radio laid off 64 people this week. Out of a staff of 889, the publicly financed news agency also said 21 open positions would stay that way and other expenses would be frozen. Two radio shows were canceled.

The layoffs came as NPR projected it would lose $23 million next year; it predicted a $2 million loss in July. The group now expects a budget of $145 million as opposed to $165 million next year. "There's a lot of work to be done between now and then to make the budget happen," says acting Chief Executive Dennis Haarsager.

He's not alone in his worries. The nonprofit news format is in vogue these days, with freshmen upstarts such as MinnPost, Pro Publica and voiceofsandiego.org thinking philanthropy could save "thoughtful news" from what they consider the commercial forces of cheap commoditization. Yet despite ambitious hopes, growth is now slowing for some of them just like it is for their commercial brethren.

"Every organization that depends on donors, or sponsors, or advertisers [is] in the same position as those in the commercial sector," says MinnPost editor Joel Kramer. Founded in 2007 by Kramer--a former publisher and editor of Minneapolis' Star Tribune--his reporters provide local news and analysis in a form Kramer says goes deeper than commercial competitors struggling with a flagging business can.


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