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Should Newspapers Become Charitable Organizations?

Should Newspapers Become Charitable Organizations?

I recently received a renewal invoice for The Providence Journal, in the amount of $259 annually. The national and international coverage in the ProJo simply regurgitates wire service stories, but the local and state coverage is superb. ProJo investigative reporters have uncovered numerous government scandals, and as the only statewide newspaper, the ProJo is the paper of record in Rhode Island.

But why should I pay for something I can get for free on the internet, at Yes, holding a newspaper in your hands while eating breakfast has a certain allure, but is it worth $259? I feel badly about not renewing. I want to support the ProJo, but I feel as if I am making a charitable donation, albeit one that is not tax deductible.

As newspapers around the country edge towards going out of business because of the internet (many local papers) and the loss of credibility (the NY Times), doesn’t it make sense for newspapers to reorganize, or reincorporate, as charitable organizations? They don’t make any money anyway, so why preserve the pretense of profit motive?

I’m not an expert on charitable organizations, but a handy brochure put out by the IRS lists the ground rules for qualifying as a charity. Most newspapers could present content in such a way as to show as tax exempt purpose:

To be tax exempt, an organization must have one or more exempt purposes, stated in its organizing document. Section 501(c)(3) of the IRC lists the following exempt purposes: charitable, educational, religious, scientific, literary, fostering national or international sports competition, preventing cruelty to children or animals, and testing for public safety.

Oh, I’m sure tax lawyers will have all sorts of problems with this. Given the alternative of shutting down completely, isn’t a reorganization along charitable lines worth a try?

There is one problem I do foresee. According to the IRS brochure, charitable organizations “must absolutely refrain from participating in the political campaigns of candidates for local, state, or federal office.” I guess that rules out the NY Times.

Maybe we can have the best of all worlds. A wide range of newspapers acting for the public benefit, tax deductible subscriptions, and no NY Times. You can’t take away my dreams!


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