Posts Tagged ‘public policy’

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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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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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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