Leaders of five news organizations will discuss nonprofit journalism in the United States

Philadelphia’s two daily newspapers made news earlier this year by heading down the path to becoming nonprofit operations, a business model very familiar to leaders of five top nonprofit journalism news outlets who will gather Friday, April 15, at the 2016 International Symposium on Online Journalism.

Keynote Panel (2016) featured image

The special keynote panel will be chaired by Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia Journalism School.

Bell will be joined by  Joaquin Alvarado, CEO of Reveal/Center for Investigative Reporting; Peter Bale, CEO of Center for Public Integrity; Bill Keller, editor-in-chief of The Marshall Project; Evan Smith, editor-in-chief, CEO and co-founder of The Texas Tribune; and Richard Tofel, president of ProPublica.

Regardless if one is talking about print or online-only, or nonprofit and for-profit news companies, these five operations are among the elite of public service journalism outlets.

The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) was founded in 1977 in Oakland, Calif., and has won numerous awards for its investigative journalism efforts over nearly 40 years. “Reveal” is the name given to the CIR’s website, public radio program, podcast and social media efforts.

“Award-winning investigative journalism is priceless — but it is not free,” says the Center for Public Integrity on its website, where it lists many donors necessary to keep the lights on and computers humming. Located in Washington, D.C., the Center for Public Integrity has been producing investigative journalism since 1988.

Relatively new to the online, nonprofit world of investigative journalism, The Marshall Project was officially launched in November 2014 with a mission of reporting on the U.S. justice system from a nonpartisan perspective. The site is named in honor of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, embracing his belief “that protection under the law is the most fundamental civil right in a free society,” says Bill Keller in his “Letter from Our Editor.”

ProPublica began publishing its broad range of investigative journalism in June 2008 from its base in Manhattan. Since then, the organization has won two Pulitzer Prizes: the first in 2010 for Investigative Reporting with The New York Times Magazine for exposing the use of euthanasia at a New Orleans hospital after Hurricane Katrina subsided, and again the following year for National Reporting for its series on Wall Street bankers enriching themselves at their clients’ expense.

The Texas Tribune was founded in 2009 when Austin-based venture capitalist John Thornton identified a vacuum in coverage of state politics as owners of major newspapers cut back coverage of the state’s often-raucous political scene. He joined forces with renowned journalist Evan Smith, who left his long-time post as editor-in-chief of Texas Monthly, and Ross Ramsey, who owned and edited Texas Weekly, the top political newsletter in the state.

The Tribune has continued to grow, hiring journalists while also reinforcing the importance of hosting events, such as the increasingly successful Texas Tribune Festival held in September, to help generate revenue.

The successes and challenges of the never-ending pursuit of revenue and funding is one topic these five leaders of major nonprofits will no doubt explore at ISOJ with the help of panel chair Emily Bell. The topic is even more relevant considering developments in Philadelphia where major news outlets are on the path to becoming nonprofit operations.

After H. F. “Gerry” Lenfest, the owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com, donated the three major news outlets to the newly-created Institute for Journalism in New Media, The Atlantic posed this question: “Will more newspapers go nonprofit?”

The article noted that gaining nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service can be a long, drawn out process, but the eventual payoff for public service journalism could be invaluable.

“In a print newspaper, an order of magnitude—85 percent of the costs—are probably spent on things other than news, and only about 15 percent is spent on news,” Tofel told The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer.

“In our operation, conversely, 80 percent of the money we spend, we spend on news,” said the president of ProPublica. “So as a nonprofit investment, you get a heck of a lot more investment for your charitable buck in digital.”

This high-powered ISOJ panel will also convene in the wake of a new study released in March that reviewed charity and tax laws and regulations impacting nonprofit news organizations in the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Australia.

The study — authored by Robert Picard from the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford, and Yale University scholars Valerie Belair-Gagnon and Sofia Ranchordás — found the United States has more nonprofit news organizations than the other countries, “but its charity and tax laws do not in themselves provide a more favorable setting.”

Picard was a keynote speaker at ISOJ in April 2015.

The 17th annual ISOJ will take place April 15-16 at the Blanton Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.

Registration is now closed, but live streaming of the event will be available.