The Globe and non-profit journalism

One of the groups seeking to buy the Boston Globe from the New York Times Co. is considering a non-profit ownership arrangement, according to a report by the Globe’s Beth Healy.

The group — headed by Partners HealthCare chairman Jack Connors and Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca — has “proposed a ‘civic approach’ that would involve a nonprofit foundation to help fund and run the news operation,” writes Healy, citing an unnamed source.

The other bidder is a group headed by Stephen Taylor, a prominent member of the family that sold the Globe to the New York Times Co. in 1993.

What Healy does not specify (and perhaps Connors and Pagliuca themselves haven’t decided at this point) is whether we’re talking about a pure non-profit or a hybrid model.

A hybrid involves setting up a non-profit organization as owner and operator of a for-profit newspaper, an arrangement that has succeeded for the St. Petersburg Times (owned by the Poynter Institute) and, locally, by the New Hampshire Union Leader (the majority owner is the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications).

Under the hybrid model, a newspaper still has to turn a profit, and the St. Pete Times and the Union Leader have not been immune from cuts. But non-profit owners are generally willing to tolerate far smaller profit margins than large, publicly traded corporations, whose executives have to worry about quarterly reports and the expectations of Wall Street.

The pure non-profit model got its biggest boost earlier this year in a New York Times op-ed piece by Yale investment executives David Swensen and Michael Schmidt. Turning newspapers into endowed institutions, they argued, would insulate them from the economic pressures that are destroying the business. (U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., has filed legislation that would help turn that vision into a reality, though it’s not clear why a change in the law would be necessary.)

As I’ve written before, though, there is a huge problem with the pure non-profit model: in order to take advantage of the the tax incentives that would make it work, the newspaper’s executives would have to stop endorsing political candidates and engaging in other forms of purely political speech. That may work for public radio and public television (after all, the government has been regulating the airwaves since the 1920s), but it would be anathema to a newspaper’s mission.

Another aspect of the Connors-Pagliuca bid that’s unclear is what role the two men see for themselves if they’re not going to be owners in the traditional sense. It all sounds very public-spirited, but I can’t imagine they’re going to invest their time and money without reserving a very large say over how the Globe is run.

Two years ago I explored various ownership options for the Globe in an article for CommonWealth Magazine. You can read it here.

The Times Co. has clearly lost interest in owning the Globe. Check out Adam Reilly’s latest, in which he notes that the company can’t even bring itself to acknowledge publicly that it’s trying to sell the paper, even though it’s, you know, trying to sell the paper.

The sooner this can get done, the better.


David Ortiz and steroids

Heard about David Ortiz flunking a 2003 test for steroids while driving around a little while ago. Very sad. What we don’t know is whether Ortiz stopped using after he got caught. Still, with Manny Ramírez already outed, the ’04 and ’07 championships seem just a bit tainted now.

The reason I say “just a bit” is that it’s really starting to look as though it would be easier to compile a list of players who didn’t use performance-enhancing drugs during the recently concluded (I hope) Steroid Era.

Given the disproportionate amount of heat they’ve come under, maybe Roger Clemens’ and Barry Bonds’ biggest offenses were being too good — and, of course, being first-class jerks who may have lied under oath.

Media should keep pushing on Crowley

Even many of us who think the Cambridge Police overreacted by arresting Henry Louis Gates in his own home have assumed — for the sake of argument if nothing else — that Sgt. James Crowley’s report was accurate.

I’ve contended from the beginning that Crowley’s mistake was in failing to recognize why Gates would think he’d been racially profiled. Friend of Media Nation Harvey Silverglate and Slate columnist Christopher Hitchens have both written that the issue wasn’t race, but Gates’ constitutional right to throw a nutty in his own home. I agree.

But with Crowley, Gates and President Obama settling in for an awkward beer later today, let’s not forget that there is an enormous discrepancy between Crowley’s report and the statements of Lucia Whalen, the woman who called 911 and then waited at the scene until police had arrived.

Using very specific, descriptive language, Crowley wrote that Whalen told him she’d seen “two black males with backpacks on the porch.” And when the Boston Herald pointed out the discrepancy to Crowley, he replied, “Obviously, I stand behind everything that’s in the police report. It wouldn’t be in there if it wasn’t true.”

Yet Whalen, at first through her lawyer, Wendy Murphy, and yesterday in her own appearance before the media (Boston Globe story here; Herald story here; Cambridge Chronicle story here), has insisted that she and Crowley never spoke.

The media need to keep pushing. If Crowley’s report turns out to be wrong in some fundamental way, then it calls everything else into question as well.

Creative Commons photo (cc) via Wikimedia.

Natural-born citizens of Idiot America

In my latest for the Guardian, I consider how the media ought to deal with the right-wing Birther movement through the lens of my friend Charles Pierce’s excellent new book — “Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free.”

No blogging today

I’m heading for New York City with Miss Media Nation to take in the Titanic exhibit. Then off to Chef Yu.

Keeping the local conversation alive

The next stop on my online-journalism video tour is Montclair, N.J., where I recently interviewed Debbie Galant, co-founder of Baristanet, and Mark Porter, editor of the weekly Montclair Times.

Baristanet, founded five years ago, was among the first local blogs — and certainly one of the very first to be started by professional journalists with the goal of turning a profit.

Galant and I met at a local Panera; I interviewed Porter at his office.


Timothy Bassett, triple-dipper

Media Nation would like to apologize to Timothy Bassett, chairman of the Essex Regional Retirement Board, for calling him “a notorious double-dipper.” The old Lily Tomlin line comes to mind, because the Boston Globe’s Sean Murphy today reports that Bassett is actually a triple-dipper.

It seems that, in addition to drawing a $41,000-a-year state pension while being paid $123,000 to run the underperforming pension system, Bassett also works as a lobbyist, getting paid more than a half-million dollars since 2001.

Meanwhile, Stacie Galang of the Salem News reports that the retirement board violated the state’s open-meeting law when it locked the doors during its June 4 meeting. The Essex County district attorney’s office has ordered the board to acknowledge the violation at its next meeting.

The board responded by saying the lockout was necessary because it keeps confidential records in its meeting room. It makes you wonder how long this has been going on.