I became convinced that the nonprofit was the future of news after seeing for-profit newsrooms decimated by venture capital and mainstream media repeatedly harming communities to publish a quick story . Since then I have worked for a series of nonprofit newsrooms, first as a freelance writer, then as an associate, then as an employee and now as a founder.
What I’ve learned is that while many nonprofit newsrooms present themselves as journalism saviors, they delude themselves until they review what their journalism practice looks like. .
The most important thing for a newsroom is not to be “non-profit” – it’s about the values it upholds.
Nonprofit news has made significant strides towards more empathetic, community-focused journalism, but many nonprofit newsrooms still perpetuate the same injustices documented in for-profit news. To name a few: A lack of worker protection and unions. Equity and retention issues. A lack of transparency in hiring. Micro-aggressions. Racism. Sexism. Capableism. Transphobia. Exclusion.
I’ve also learned that for-profit news can work just as well when it’s structured more democratically, like with strong unions or cooperative structures. What matters in journalism are the values of a newsroom, the specific ways it respects them, and the way its leaders hold themselves accountable.
That’s not to say that I don’t like the tax status or the way nonprofit news organizations have driven the industry forward. The critical and reporting medium that I co-founded, The goal, is currently fiscally sponsored by the Institute for Nonprofit News and is seeking association status.
And nonprofit news has allowed the emergence of a whole class of newsrooms reporting for – rather than about – their communities. Nonprofit media like Scalawag, Outlier Media, City Bureau, Sahan Journal, El Tímpano and Documented have shown what it means to go beyond tax status. They assert and support their values, making journalism that refuses to perpetuate the status quo. They are transparent and aim to be accountable. They explain what they are doing and why. Like these media and others, nonprofit newsrooms need to move beyond the argument that they are creating “impact” and saving democracy and showing how they are living up to their values.
There are several ways to do this while pushing the ground forward. Support unions and worker protections. Be transparent in the hiring process and clearly state the salary or compensation. Try to understand the power dynamics at play in the newsroom. Seek to dismantle the norms that have contributed to a journalistic field of exclusion.
Some nonprofit newsrooms struggle to exist while others are teeming with capital. To the latter, it is important to say: it’s up to you. Offer your fellow students health care, a living wage and a path to permanent placement. Pay for work done in writing and editing tests. Recognize your power on the ground and act with this in mind as you assess how much you are willing to invest in staff, communities and collaborators.
the first nonprofit newsroom in the United States was established in 1977. Nonprofit news is not new. It is a makeshift solution to a struggling profession. In 2022, nonprofit newsrooms that explicitly define and uphold their values are the cure.