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Evolution of Journalism: The Nonprofit Model

Friday, April 7, 2017   (0 Comments)
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Evolution of Journalism: The Nonprofit Model
Halie Borwn | The Arkansas Traveler | April 4, 2017
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This December, a new model of journalism was introduced to Arkansas.

The Arkansas Nonprofit News Network, or ANNN,  launched this December and is the first nonprofit news network based in Arkansas. Founded by Lindsey Millar, an editor for the Arkansas Times, the network uses the nonprofit model of journalism and focuses on in-depth stories that could potentially create change, said Millar.

Millar said ANNN will cover legislation and other topics important to Arkansans. Since its launch in December, ANNN has focused on tax and education issues covered by reporter Ibby Caputo.

The idea for ANNN came from the Mayflower oil spill when Millar started to look for ways to work around the traditional model of the Arkansas Times, he said.

"It was a really important story that was not covered as it should have been in the weeks that followed," Millar said. "We have a really small staff at the Arkansas Times; it's difficult for us to devote anyone to a single topic for an extended period."

Newsroom employment has fallen 40 percent in the years between 2006 and 2014. The number of daily newspapers have also decreased by more than a 100 since 2004, according to the Pew Research Center 2016 State of the News Media report.

New models, or less traditional models, of journalism have arisen to combat these statistics. Other nonprofit news organizations like ProPublica focus on investigative stories, or stories that couldn't be followed as well in traditional for-profit models.

Rob Wells, a UA assistant professor in journalism who helped start PublicSource, a nonprofit news network in Pittsburgh, said this model allows journalists to follow stories on their own time.  

"You have the opportunity to innovate, you can fill in holes that are not being provided by mainstream news media," Wells said, describing the benefits of the nonprofit model.

The Associated Press is form of nonprofit journalism and was developed in 1846 to cover the Mexican-American War. In the 1970s, nonprofits like the Chicago Reporter began to emerge. Among the newest nonprofit journalism networks is ProPublica and The Texas Tribune, both of which focus on in-depth journalism.

Millar used the nonprofit model to create a project that allowed reporters to follow the Mayflower story more closely with the help of InsideClimate News.

Millar described the project as an overall success. The investigative story written by Benjamin Hardy prompted legislators to pay more attention to families affected by the oil spill.  

"They had been ignored by EXXON and the state," Millar said. "The next day the congressman had announced free health screenings."

Millar said he continued to use this model of journalism afterwards, developing projects  that he said created change.

Stories produced by ANNN are free for Arkansas news networks to use.

"There are few, if any, news organizations that can afford to do the news reporting we are doing. We’re offering to fill that gap," Millar said.

The more traditional, for-profit model has had trouble in recent years. The for-profit journalism business model has struggled since the creation of the internet, and at times can have problems with advertisers, according to a Financing Quality Journalism Shaerpa report.

Gina Shelton, a UA journalism professor, said some news networks struggled with advertisers moving online or pushing back against news that didn't put sponsors in the best light.

"That can come up, in pursuing the news. You bump into what advertisers would like you to write about," Shelton said, "and journalism is not about fluffy, happy news."

Shelton worked for the Associated Press for 17 years. During this time, Shelton said she didn’t have to worry about the financial consequences of following stories and got to be what she calls a "hard-nosed journalist."

Hard-nose journalism, or journalism where a reporter follows a story to its completion, has become more difficult because of the lack of both time and money, Shelton said.

Millar said ANNN is expected to get its 501-c3 from the IRS, or recognition as a non-profit organization, in the next year.

Until then, tax-deductible donations are made through the Fred Darragh Foundation, which grants funds to nonprofit organizations.   

Shelton, a second-generation journalist, said she is troubled by deterioration of newspapers, seeing some having to fold or make cut backs on their number of productions. She said she is not completely without hope, though.

"I do see from the young people here in our department prospects for the future," Shelton said. "And it's not going to be in the traditional newsprint format."

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