Michael Kinsley is in a sour mood today as he ponders the future of newspapers. Shorter Kinsley: Let ’em die. Slightly longer Kinsley: Non-profit, foundation-supported newspapers are a bad idea because if the marketplace won’t support them, then they have no right to exist.
Personally, I’m not wild about the idea of non-profit newspapers. For one thing, you have to give up some of your First Amendment rights. For another, there’s a danger that such papers, insulated from the pressures of the marketplace, will become too disconnected from their readers.
I prefer the St. Petersburg Times model: a for-profit newspaper owned by a non-profit organization — the Poynter Institute, in the Times’ case. The financial advantages aren’t as great as true non-profit status, but at least the editors don’t have to check with the IRS every time they want to weigh in on a political matter.
But gee, Mike, let a thousand experiments bloom. I’d like to see someone give non-profit newspapering a try. Maybe we can start with the Boston Globe.
And let me point out that public radio stations are pretty much all owned by non-profit foundations, and they are anything but disconnected from their listeners. Simply by having to solicit the bulk of their money from listeners, public radio station executives are perhaps more connected to their communities than many newspaper publishers and editors.
Finally: Kinsley is so far off in his observation that newspapers are dying because no one wants to read them that it’s hard to know where to begin. Do I really have to point out that newspaper readership is reasonably healthy when you add print and online readers together?
Just because it’s become a cliché to say that the business model is broken doesn’t mean it isn’t true.