Archive for June, 2009

My (belated!) response to Digidave’s video on Spot.us and MoJo…

28 June 2009

I’ve been a doofus:  Dave Cohn posted a video in response to this back at the end of May, and I promised I’d get a reply back to him asap. One hardware crash and MoJo board meeting later, I’m finally able to get into a conversation with him about Spot.us, Mother Jones, non profit journalism etc. (sorry Dave!) mainly because here I am 39,000 feet in the air headed to #PDF09, and finally have some quality time to do just that (although for the sake of my seat mates, no video…).

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#PDF09 plus Pocantico: lots going on next week

27 June 2009

Headed east tomorrow to #PDF09 (plus some $raising for the Mother Ship) in New York. While the political digerati are enjoying the view from Jazz at Lincoln Center, there will be another conversation going on up the Hudson at the Pocantico Conference Center I’ll very interested in hearing more about: a meeting called by Rosie Rosenthal of the Center for Investigative Reporting and Bill Buezenburg of the Center for Public Integrity on “new models for watchdog journalism.”

First time that many of the new local news projects – MinnPost.com, VoiceofSanDiego.com, TexasWatchdog.com, etc., plus other investigative projects affiliated with university j-schools – will be sitting down together. Part of the agenda will no doubt be talking about some of the ideas Joel Kramer of MinnPost.com and Jon Sawyer from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting pulled together in this paper (link to a PDF on this page)  for another conference back in May.

You can read more about the Pocantico meeting at Ken Doctor’s Content Bridges blog (not to mention my comment on his post). Having been through an almost identical process that led to the creation of The Media Consortium – now a lively network of some 50 independent, progressive media operations  (Tracy Van Slyke is the project director for this gang) – what happens at Pocantico could be decisive in moving investigative journalism towards a more sustainable footing. Definitely worth following.

Friday dog blogging 26 June 2009: walking the dog.

26 June 2009

Mingus the Super Dog and I are back from our early morning spazier up the hill and down again. Is there anything about walking (the dog) that is not virtuous? (Oh yeah: “hiking the Appalachian Trail”). That’s what I was thinking about while MtSD did his morning smell-everything-in-our-path routine.P1030115Two books came to mind:

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Friday Dog Day 19 June 2009: Squirrel! Plus: why money is like water.

19 June 2009

Mingus the Super Dog and I took our lunch break out the door and up past Marin Stables along Wood Lane Creek – here he is doing his best imitation of Dug (“squirrel!”) from the Pixar movie, UP! – and then over the ridge and back down again along Deer Park Creek (these out-the-door hikes being yet another reason I love this town…).

Squirrel!

Squirrel!

Those creeks got me thinking about today’s report from the conservative Philanthropy Roundtable (paid for by the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation), which disputes the right of “governmental authority to regulate the activities of American philanthropists.” (h/t to @sharonschneider – you can read her stuff here). This is but the latest salvo in a spitting war ignited by a recent report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, which had the audacity to suggest that foundations ought to straighten up and fly right or risk greater scrutiny from the federales. Imagine that: a watchdog organization that committed the inexcusable philanthropic faux pas of being impolite! Quel horror!

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MoJo v the IRS and what it might mean for non profit newspapers

15 June 2009

Update 15 June 09: Rich Schmalbeck (who is on the Duke law faculty, btw) emailed me his comments on my post re MoJo v. IRS. With his okay, here’s what he said:

The Technical Advice Memorandum that turned the tide in your case has almost certainly been published, though I didn’t look to verify that.  These are documents prepared by the IRS Chief Counsel’s Office, at the request of either a taxpayer or a field office of the IRS, in the context of an audit that raises difficult legal questions.  They had long been completely private, but a Freedom of Information Act suit sometime in the 1970s compelled their disclosure, but with information that might identify the taxpayer redacted.  They are typically not reviewed at the highest levels of the IRS or Treasury, and so are specifically not intended to establish precedent, but are merely supposed to resolve the issues with respect to a particular taxpayer.  But now that they are routinely published, lawyers do consult them, and do sometimes cite them, though with the understanding that a court may not accord them much weight.

I think the Mother Jones Tech Advice is helpful in this issue, but I’m not as sanguine as you seem to be in this piece that it answers all the questions the IRS might raise about a regular, full-service daily newspaper.  Mother Jones is more like Harpers, Commentary, and the like, than it is like the Chicago Tribune.  And my sense from talking with people in the industry is that while they would like to continue publication of at least some newspapers within a nonprofit framework, they would like nearly every other aspect of publication to remain the same.  And that’s where the IRS may say that the operation is not sufficiently distinguishable from an ordinary commercial enterprise to justify tax-exempt status.  But we’ll see.  In the long run, I think the IRS is going to lose on this question of exempt purpose.  But you are quite correct in thinking that no single newspaper wants to head down a road that might involve an IRS audit, followed by litigation in the Tax Court, and ultimately perhaps up to the Court of Appeals level.  So it would certainly make things easier if Congress would simply enact legislation clarifying that newspaper publication was a suitable exempt purpose, period.  But my understanding is that the bill that would do that isn’t making much progress.

A few days ago, I said I would come back to one specific item from the Duke conference a while back on non profit media, so here goes. It’s triggered by an issue raised in a paper prepped for the conference by Rich Schmalbeck, “Financing the American Newspaper in the Twenty-First Century.” Turns out that a battle royale Mother Jones went through with the Reagan-era IRS has some relevance today. It might point to a way to deal w/the IRS for newspapers and other publications looking to convert to non profit status.

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Friday dog (and cats, and frog) days 12 June 2009

12 June 2009

You know this look, right? Mingus the Super Dog is doing his “get-yer-fricken-shoes-on-and-let’s-get-going” hairy canine eyeball thing…can I just explain that I slept a little later than usual today – the typical Friday morning reaction following a Mother Jones board meeting marathon? P1030101

Which by the way was a great couple of days, devoted to thinking about opportunities, new projects, how to respond to the crazy world of journalism, but also about what to do if things don’t quite work out the way we want them to…really good conversation with our board (unsung heros!) and terrific presentation from Ludivoc and Jim from Insight’s Closing the Wealth Gap Initiative.

Meanwhile, over at the mother ship, our new gang of incredibly overqualified interns are giving Kevin Drum’s Friday catblogging a run for the money with their “This Week In Frog.”  And we have a winner: the judges have determined that our frog’s new name is Mudraker.

Dukes, pretenders to the throne, and citoyens: 3 discussions on the future of journalism that need to come together

5 June 2009

When I started this blog a little while ago, I thought I’d mainly focus on the (as I put it) “intersection of journalism, fundraising, and technology” – figuring that I’d eventually get lost in the weeds/arcana/geekdom of fundraising since that’s what I can bring to the larger table  chewing over the future of (biz models to support) journalism (aka FoJ). So I reached out to Dave Cohn at Spot.us here, here and here, because I think he’s doing something really interesting. And I’ll get back to you, Dave (I owe you answers to those 2 questions you posed for me).

But the past couple of weeks, when it comes to thinking about work-related stuff, I’ve headed in a different direction – and think I’ll probably keep doing that for a bit longer before I head back to the weeds. Reason being that there’s been some really interesting thinking/doing/arguing about the larger structures through which journalism – however we end up defining that term in the near future – will be organized.

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Friday dog blogging 5 June 09

5 June 2009

P1030085Threat of rain didn’t keep Mingus the Super Dog and me from a quick spazier up Cascade Creek earlier today.He’s a noble looking, goofy dog today:

The water still flows, the grass is still green. Mingus the S.D. did P1030098what he does – chewed grass, marked the entire length of the trail, picked up every stick and carried it for a while, and blurbled his nose into the water to dig out that very special stone.

Could JournalismOnline.com save the Marin Independent Journal?

2 June 2009

This morning, my Twitter feed linked to a Neiman Journalism Lab piece by Zachery Seward with more info on how Journalism Online – the paid content startup being organized by Steven Brill, Leo Hindery and Gordon Crovitz – will work. (disclosure: back when Brill’s Content folded, Mother Jones took over its mailing list; I’ve met Leo Hindery on several occasions over the past couple of years – he has no financial relationship with Mother Jones, although that’s not for lack of trying on my part)

Reading just a little bit between the lines, Journalism Online sits on a 3-legged stool (or will when it launches: Brill told Seward they’re still aiming for a fall opener).

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