Posts Tagged ‘future of journalism’

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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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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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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Digidave talks about Spot.us and fundraising

27 May 2009

Here’s Dave Cohn aka Digidave talking about fundraising and Spot.us. Keywords are “transparency, immediacy, and control” (for the donor, that is). Towards the end of the video (btw Dave, are you suffering from bad bed hair, or is that a hat you’ve got on?!) Dave puts a couple of questions on the table for me. I’ve got a day full of fundraising meetings (okay, that’s somehow completely if ironically appropriate), so I’ll get this up now and get a response up later today…Thanks Dave!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

(BTW Dave – it’s “May-mon-ih-dees.” Maimonides. Greek for Hebrew.)

more about “Viddler.com – Conversation with Steve…“, posted with vodpod

Coming up: a conversation with Dave Cohn

17 May 2009

spotusAbout a month ago Dave Cohn of Spot.us responded to a post I’d put up here that wondered how he and his sidekick Kara were doing, and particularly whether and how they were encouraging people who donated money to a specific “pitch” to also make a donation to the organization. He wrote back to say that they’d been thinking a lot about this question in slightly different terms:

Are we a platform that puts weight on the reporters to fund themselves – assuming that most donors are one-time givers.Or are we a community site that is going to try and create a dynamic relationship with our audience and give them more than the single project. More and more – we are trying to become the second.

Good questions for anyone who’s going to push the practice of crowdfunding forward. It’s also a question we deal with all the time at Mother Jones, and so I was especially interested to see how Dave and Spot.us approach it, literally with fresh eyes.

So I asked Dave if he’d be up for talking about the fundraising end of things with me – and that’s what we’ll be doing over the next few days. Keep an eye out for it, and once it gets going, join the conversation. (PS – Dave is threatening to respond via video, which means I may be making the jump into that medium too. . . uh oh, moving pictures…)

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A report on “saving the news” that’s worth a read

12 May 2009

Confession: I was ready to not like the new report from Free Press on “Saving the News:  Toward a National Journalism Strategy.” Yeesh: a national journalism strategy, when we can barely figure out how to use Twitter? Seemed a bit presumptuous.

The first sentence of the report didn’t help, either:”Journalism is a public good.” Really? Britney? Octomom? Glenn Beck? Public goods? Double yeesh.

Sure enough after that boldly wrong-headed statement, the Free Press guys = Victor Pickard, Josh Stearns, and Craig Aaron – pulled back, and hard. After that, they made it quite clear they were talking about something a wee bit more specific, aka “quality journalism” –  you know, stuff with facts and thinking.

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