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

Tag: WBEZ

A family-owned newspaper in Pennsylvania will be donated to a public broadcaster

Lancaster, Pa. Photo (cc) 2016 by Steam Pipe Distribution Venue.

Some very good news on the community journalism front: The family who owns the daily newspaper LNP of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is donating it to the local public broadcasting outlet. WITF will acquire LNP, Lancaster Online and several other media properties, known collectively as LNP Media. LNP reporter Chad Umble writes:

The Steinman family’s 158-year ownership of a daily newspaper in Lancaster will end in June with a gift meant to safeguard the future of its flagship publication.

Steinman Communications leadership on Tuesday announced to staff their plans to give LNP Media Group, publisher of LNP | LancasterOnline, at no cost to WITF, the Harrisburg-based public broadcasting station operator. WITF will oversee the Lancaster media company, which will be converted to a public benefit corporation and become a subsidiary of WITF.

Robby Brod of WITF covers the story as well.

Significantly, the deal will be accompanied by a major donation from the Steinman family, which will provide LNP with five years of runway to achieve long-term sustainability. Now, that’s stepping up. You may also recall that WITF was absolutely fierce in calling out elected officials in Pennsylvania who lied about the 2020 election results.

Not too many parallels come to mind. Probably the closest took place in 2022, when WBEZ acquired the Chicago Sun-Times, a tabloid that was traditionally that city’s No. 2 daily. The Sun-Times was converted to a nonprofit, whereas the LNP properties will be run as a public benefit corporation — a for-profit whose governance structure imposes certain requirements for serving the public interest. Both deals, though, show that public broadcasters can help save regional news coverage.

I’ve reported pretty extensively on yet another situation that involved not a major regional newspaper but, rather, a medium-size digital-and-broadcast operation: NJ Spotlight News, created in 2019 by the merger of NJ Spotlight and NJ PBS. The combined operation includes a website that covers politics and public policy in New Jersey as well as a half-hour television newscast. The website and the newscast both incorporate quite a bit of journalism in common. The story of the merger and its aftermath will be told in “What Works in Community News,” the book that Ellen Clegg and I are working on.

Recently my friend and mentor Thomas Patterson of the Harvard Kennedy School wrote a paper on how public radio stations could do more to help solve the local news crisis; I wrote a response. The merger taking place in Pennsylvania isn’t quite what Patterson and I have in mind, but it’s adjacent. And it’s a great example of public media filling the gap at a time when traditional for-profit newspapers are fading.

Northeastern’s Myojung Chung and John Wihbey on attitudes about regulating social media

Myojung Chung

In the latest “What Works” podcast, Professors Myojung Chung and John Wihbey, colleagues from Northeastern University’s School of Journalism, share the findings from their new working paper, published by Northeastern’s Ethics Institute.

They and their colleagues examined attitudes about the regulation of social media in four countries: the U.K., Mexico, South Korea and the U.S. With Facebook (or Meta) under fire for its role in amplifying disinformation and hate speech, their research has implications for how the platforms might be regulated — and whether such regulations would be accepted by the public.

John Wihbey

In Quick Takes, Ellen Clegg and I kick around WBEZ Radio’s acquisition of the Chicago Sun-Times, which will result in the newspaper’s becoming a nonprofit organization. We also discuss an announcement that a new nonprofit news organization will be launched in Houston with $20 million in seed money. Plus a tiny Easter egg from country artist Roy Edwin Williams.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

With Chicago Public Media’s acquisition, the Sun-Times will soon go nonprofit

Photo (cc) 2011 by Seth Anderson

There’s been some confusion over Chicago Public Media’s acquisition of the Chicago Sun-Times, a tabloid that is the city’s number-two daily newspaper. For example, The New York Times reported that “the ownership structure would be similar to that of The Philadelphia Inquirer, a big-city paper that the nonprofit Lenfest Institute for Journalism has run since 2016.”

Well, no. The Inquirer is a for-profit newspaper owned by a nonprofit organization. If the Inquirer itself were a nonprofit, it would be barred from endorsing political candidates. In fact, the paper continues to endorse candidates and published an “Endorsement Guide” as recently as last fall.

What’s happening in Chicago is different. The ownership of the Sun-Times will be converted to nonprofit with its own board, according to WBEZ, the broadcast arm of Chicago Public Media. The Sun-Times itself reports that the paper will “convert from for-profit to nonprofit status.” That would make it the second major daily paper to become a nonprofit, following The Salt Lake Tribune. Recently the executive editor of the Tribune, Lauren Gustus, reported that the paper is healthy and growing under nonprofit ownership.

As I mentioned, there is one disadvantage to nonprofit ownership: news organizations can’t endorse candidates or advocate for certain legislative actions without endangering their tax-exempt status. Of course, there are plenty observers who see that as a feature rather than a bug. For instance, David Boardman, chair of the Lenfest Institute, greeted the news that the Sun-Times will no longer be able to endorse with this:

But endorsements can be useful, especially in smaller races to which voters may be paying minimal attention. Besides, it’s an infringement on free speech. Such a rule didn’t even exist until Lyndon Johnson rammed it through the Senate in order to silence political opponents back home in Texas.

In any event, with Alden Global Capital disemboweling the long-dominant Chicago Tribune, the announcement that WBEZ and the Sun-Times will soon be covering the region with a combined newsroom is good news. And it shows that people and institutions are willing to step up when market failure undermines local news coverage.

“NPR” is not a synonym for public radio

This is a mistake that comes up over and over, and today’s offender is the Boston Globe. The headline on an editorial about the Mike Daisey/“This American Life” debacle reads “NPR: Exposing Apple’s worm, and its own.”

The editorial itself refers to “This American Life” as an “NPR show.” It goes on to note that Daisey’s fabrications about his trip to China were unearthed by “another NPR reporter.” (“Another”? Daisey is not a reporter.)

If you haven’t figured out where I’m going by now, “This American Life” is not an NPR program. It’s produced by Chicago’s WBEZ Radio, a public station, and distributed by Public Radio International, a competitor of NPR’s.

Daisey’s assault on the truth was exposed by a reporter for “Marketplace,” which is produced by American Public Media, yet another NPR competitor.

But wait. Doesn’t “This American Life” appear on NPR stations? No. And here’s where it gets confusing. Plenty of public radio stations market themselves as NPR stations because it’s a name brand they can use to attract listeners and advertisers — oops, sorry. Underwriters. NPR itself does not own stations.

Both of Boston’s large public stations, WBUR (90.9 FM) and WGBH (89.7 FM) call themselves NPR stations. But WBUR’s license is held by Boston University, and WGBH is an independent nonprofit organization that includes radio and television stations. (Disclosure: I’m a paid contributor to WGBH.) NPR is just one of several services (albeit the best-known) from which public radio stations buy programming.

“In a just world,” Reuters media columnist Jack Shafer recently tweeted, “we could say ‘NPR’ to describe all public radio, just as saying ‘Kleenex’ covers Scott Tissues and generic brands.”

Shafer was kidding, of course. And it does get confusing. But NPR takes enough grief from its critics without having to get blamed for programming on rival networks.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to send an email to CNN complaining about Sean Hannity.

Afternoon update: The headline and editorial have been rewritten, and a correction has been appended.

Photo (cc) by Raul654 and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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