US newspapers could become not-for-profit

26 March 2009

WASHINGTON, DC: New legislation has been proposed by a US Senator that would allow newspapers to adopt not-for-profit status, a move that would make advertising and subscription revenues tax exempt and place them on a similar footing to public service broadcasters.

Newspaper ad revenues have been declining rapidly in the US, and the medium is expected to be one of the major "losers" of the current industry downturn.

The new bill, proposed by Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, would recategorise newspapers as fulfilling an educational remit, meaning they would be required to be politically impartial, but could still cover all political campaigns and issues.

However, any voluntary contributions paid in support of newspapers would then also be tax deductible.

Cardin said the current economic climate had "caused an immediate problem" for print titles, but that the "business model for newspapers, based on circulation and advertising revenue, is broken."

He argued that taking not-for-profit status wouldn't be "the optimal choice for some major newspapers or corporate media chains," but "should be an option for many newspapers that are struggling to stay afloat."

Among the titles that could benefit from such status are the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, which are owned by the Tribune Company, which filed for bankruptcy protection in late 2008.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal; additional content by WARC staff