Friday, February 6, 2009

The Not-For-Profit Panacea

As the business model for newspapers cracks apart, there are those who are lamenting and those who are inventing. Some journalists now say the industry should forget about making a profit altogether and find new ways to support the news.

Paul Steiger was a captain of the financial press as the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. But capitalism wasn't working all that well for a lot of American newspapers — even before the economy collapsed.

"My role was not to generate the advertising revenue or to figure out how much to charge for the paper, or any of that stuff," Steiger says, "But you certainly had to think about that, particularly in the last five years, as the walls … kept squeezing in tighter and tighter."

Steiger is now editor-in-chief of ProPublica. The year-old investigative reporting outfit runs on a not-for-profit basis, and he says that changes everything:

"I don't even have to think about revenue, I don't have to think about circulation. I don't have to think about advertising."

A wealthy couple, Herb and Marion Sandler, asked Steiger how to help save journalism. His answer became ProPublica.

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