Bernardsville, N.J. Photo (cc) 2012 by Doug Kerr.

I love this. A small chain of 14 weekly papers in north central New Jersey is converting to nonprofit ownership. The New Jersey Hills Media Group will work with the Corporation for New Jersey Local Media in order to make the transition — and will immediately embark on a fundraising drive with a goal of $500,000. Co-publisher and business manager Steve Parker explains the move this way:

Our family has served as stewards of these newspapers for 66 years, and we are pleased that a nonprofit group based in our communities has come forward to ensure that they will continue their mission of community journalism far into the future.

The papers — some of which are more than 100 years old — serve 52 communities in Morris, Somerset, Essex and Hunterdon counties.

According to the announcement, the chain might become the largest nonprofit group of weeklies in the country. Among large daily papers, The Salt Lake Tribune has converted to nonprofit status, while there are a handful of for-profit papers owned by nonprofit organizations — a list that includes The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Tampa Bay Times, the New Hampshire Union Leader and The Day of New London, Connecticut. And, of course, public radio stations are nonprofit news organizations.

You sometimes hear that nonprofit ownership doesn’t solve all the problems faced by shrinking newspapers, since they still have to balance the books. That’s true. But it solves a lot of the problems. Tax-exempt status and ownership by people invested in the community rather than by corporate chains and hedge funds go along way toward ensuring the future of local news.

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