Does it count as not for profit when you have no chance of ever making a profit – and that’s part of your business plan? Maybe not always on paper, but it’s a common if unspoken, reality in the media business.
Certain media entities, most often owned by other profitable concerns, exist to meet a specific need or address a small, specific demographic—and their publishers know they will never eek out a profit. In some cases, these publications are both existentially and legally not for profit. They exist to serve rather than to make money. Some examples: Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Republic and The Nation.
A quick glance reveals pseudo-political but often more culturally sensitive publications, the home of think pieces and long-form storytelling most magazines and newspapers abandoned long ago. Many of these publications continue to exist thanks to the charity of deep-pocketed owners who are willing to break even or to take a loss just to keep a publication they believe important alive and well.
That’s been a successful model for many similar publications for more than a century. Now the traditionally profitable print news publications are beginning to look at that model – or some version of it – in an effort to find any way to keep their doors open. Too few people read dailies anymore, and the generation that still prizes them is literally dying off.
When they go, so too will a vital community service. Sure, most folks grabbed a newspaper for the sports or national politics, but the local reporting these publications were able to do so helped form a bulwark for freedom and helped keep government honest, at least relatively.
The slow demise of the dailies has given rise to a new brand of print publication, which continues the rich trend of solid investigative journalism. It’s not a perfect solution. “Nonprofit” cannot mean “no money.” That won’t work at all. They need to pay staff and pay for the printing and distribution. While that takes less cash when you’re not trying to make a profit, it still takes a substantial sum to get it right.
That’s where nonprofit PR comes into play. These publications may depend for a season or even a generation on a patron who’s willing to pay to keep them going. But if this trend is to be the evolution of the news business, they need to figure out a way to communicate intrinsic worth to donors, in the same ways, all nonprofits must. The model is still evolving, but it begins with a sort of communication with which many news agencies are unfamiliar.