By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The New York Times’ non-profit partners

What should we think about a partnership the New York Times has announced with a Chicago non-profit news organization that will supply two pages of news each week for the Times’ new Chicago edition?

On the one hand, the Times, a for-profit enterprise, is using material from a non-profit in order to take business away from two other for-profit enterprises, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. (Earlier, a similar arrangement was announced for a San Francisco edition of the Times.)

I’m a huge fan of non-profit journalism, but this strikes me as raising the specter of unfair competition. The non-profit, after all, enjoys certain tax advantages not available to a for-profit.

On the other hand, no one objects when for-profit newspapers run material from non-profit news organizations such as the Christian Science Monitor. My gut tells me this is different, but I can’t explain why.

We’re all debating whether for-profit newspapers can or should take the non-profit route. At least in a small way, the Times is now doing exactly that through the back door.

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


Dancing on the newspaper business’ grave


Looking for reliable site-traffic data


  1. Dan Mitchell

    Well, this is not much more “complex” than what you tweeted. I’m not sure how to respond to the inexplicable messages you’re receiving from your gut.

    The NYT is paying for the material, and it is getting no tax breaks, or any other non-profit benefits. If there actually is competition in the news business, that’s a good thing, right? You’re objecting to a new source of news, employing more journalists, while newspapers have spent years laying them off and wrecking their own products. The owners of these publications have done far more harm to themselves, and to journalism, than Chicago Scoop or the NYT will do. Maybe competition will spur them to resurrect their former greatness, or at least to try.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Dan: You make it sound as though these non-profits have no choice but to partner with a for-profit paper. Non-profit sites like the New Haven Independent, MinnPost and Voice of San Diego are doing great work on their own.

      Can the Chicago and San Francisco papers buy this material, or is it an exclusive deal with the New York Times? Are the foundations donating money to the non-profits happy about helping the Times with its business model? Wouldn’t the Times have to pay more for this stuff if the non-profits weren’t able to keep down their costs through tax breaks?

  2. Treg

    Dan, I’m skeptical too – maybe the Chicago News Cooperative becomes a de facto subsidiary of the Times.

    On the other hand, this could be great for the Cooperative, if they take the money the Times pays them and invest it heavily in local reporting.

    Or maybe it’s just outsourcing.

  3. Dan Mitchell

    But from whom would the NYT buy it? You’re assuming they have some other choice.

    I don’t know whether the ST, Trib or Chron will be able to purchase the material. I’d be interested to know whether they were approached. And I wouldn’t be shocked if they turned down the offer.

    But even if not, the situation is still that more journalists are being hired for publications that actually want to create quality journalism. And increasingly terrible newspapers now face competition they didn’t face before.

    The non-profits surely benefit from wider distribution. I think it would be great if the NYT (or the Strib for that matter) picked up stuff from Minnpost.

    Whatever we have to do to create quality local and regional journalism is going to be painful — perhaps particularly so for the long-moribund newspaper industry. But I don’t care about the newspaper industry — I care only about journalism and journalists. Whatever painful process we have to go through, it’s probably better to go through it quickly. And the more competition, the faster, the better.

    • Dan Kennedy

      But from whom would the NYT buy it? You’re assuming they have some other choice.

      Yes, and it’s staring you right in the face. They could, you know, hire people.

  4. Dan Mitchell

    I mean, just look at who’s heading up these efforts — great journalists like O’Shea and Warren who were thrown overboard by the awful newspapers they were trying to improve, even as the executives of those newspapers were knowingly and purposefully degrading their own businesses in the long term in order to hit short-term profit-margin targets. I know whose side I’m on.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Dan: As you might imagine, the New York Times Co. is regarded in Boston with much the same contempt that the Tribune Co. is held in Los Angeles and Chicago, even though — let me be absolutely clear — the Times Co. has been a splendid steward of the Boston Globe in comparison to the Zell gang.

  5. Dan Mitchell

    The Times is laying off journalists, you may have noticed. That’s not really an option right now. Nonetheless, the paper’s efforts mean more jobs for more journalists. The stuff from the non-profits is not all they’re running in those pages.

  6. lkcape

    Overhead, Dan Overhead:

    The cost of an in-house employee plus benefits vs cost of a contracted service.

    It seems to me that this is a win-win as opposed to the unfair competition that you postulate.

    Perhaps you could discuss how you see unfair competition arising?

  7. Peter Porcupine

    DK – let me offer you a non-media analogy, and see how your gut reacts.

    Mr White owns a dry-cleaning business. He does good owrk, alterations, and same day pickup.

    Across the street, Mr. Beige offers all the same services, with comparative quality, but is also able to have weekly senior specials, and offer a dollar more to employees.

    You see, Mr. White rents his shop from MegaRealty, a commercial business firm, and Mr. Beige rents from AngelRealty, an investment arm of a church – so Angel can offer lower rents due to having to pay no property taxes.

    Who gets taken to the cleaners in the end?

    • Dan Kennedy

      PP: Try again. AngelRealty, of course, does have to pay property taxes. Religious organizations are not exempt from taxes when they engage in non-religious activities. Let’s rework the analogy so that Mr. Beige is receiving a $1,000 check from the government every month. What do you think now?

      But, really, why do we even need an analogy? Just analyze the situation at hand.

  8. Treg

    The more I think about it, the more it seems like it’s just outsourcing. Good for the non-profits to be able to sell some of their work and get more exposure. But some of those journalists will essentially be working for the Times, with probably lower wages and fewer benefits.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Treg: Yeah, I guess. I’m really of a mixed mind about this. As long as it’s an arm’s-length transaction and the Times is paying a fair price, I suppose it’s all right. I’d rather see the non-profits do it on their own, but ultimately it’s their choice.

  9. Newshound

    Angel pays property taxes – an investment arm of the Church being rented for commercial use is not excluded.

    “Arms-length transaction” – maybe – totally unrelated – much better.

  10. Michael Pahre

    I think your analogy to the Christian Science Monitor was on target.

    If the NYT paid the CSM individually (and irregularly) for a series of articles during the week — that happen to add up to two pages of NYT content for the week — then you would probably not have noticed or raised it as an issue. But you seem slightly disturbed that they are paying for the two pages of content all at once (or as a guaranteed payment in advance).

    Anyway, it all sounds fine to me, an admitted non-expert.

    Sure, CSM reporters will get paid less than NYT reporters (and the talent might follow the money), but the best CSM reporters would get broader exposure for their best work each week and have the chance to land a better paying job as a result.

  11. Al

    Can it be said that if a non profit news enterprise gets its material printed in a for profit publication that it gets a certain amount of prestige from what is likely the more established medium? OTOH, the MSM (NYT in this case) gets some material prepared for it at comparatively little cost other than the space it takes up, and at the savings of not having to go out and develop it on its own. I think it lends a legitimacy to the non profit that it might otherwise have struggled to attain, especially in the eyes of the casual reader.

  12. Newshound

    Non-profits are often convoluted. The IRS form 990 is public information and on the Internet.

    To see an example of how convoluted and intertwined a non-profit can be, Joe Kennedy’s oil is just one good place to start.

    Non-profits are everywhere in our commerical society. Our universities are working with drug companies and many other developing technologies, as just another small example.

    Of course we want our media to be honest and preserve the dignity and integrity of our country and its laws. Some of this will be dependent on the quality of the integrity of the news organizations themselves.

  13. amused

    The idea of The New York Times outsourcing content shivers me timbers.

    And no, if they’re supplying two pages of content it’s nothing like a wire service.

    And no, I don’t much care about profit or non-profit, just the idea of the Times subcontracting the production of pages.


Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén