Endowment would save struggling papers from need to meet profit goals, while promoting journalistic independence, argue financial analyst authors...
By Brad Friedman on 1/28/2009, 1:09pm PT  

In light of mainstream newspapers beginning to collapse around the country --- yes, the rise of the Internet is a substantial reason for the troubles they face, but their own failures, for so many long years, to meet their Constitutionally protected role as Fourth Estate watchdogs for the American people is also key to their downfall --- we're faced with a dilemma.

While they are, in many ways, responsible for their own potential/pending demise --- evidence for that critique littered throughout thousands of our very own pages here --- we also recognize the critical importance of a robust, well-funded, mainstream free press.

So what to do? In an op-ed in today's New York Times, David Swensen and Michael Schmidt (both financial analysts) suggest the nation's mainstream newspapers should go non-profit and be turned into endowed institutions "like colleges and universities" to "enhance newspapers’ autonomy while shielding them from the economic forces that are now tearing them down."

We don't yet have an opinion on this new idea, so we share it here in hopes of your thoughts on it. One point, however, in Swensen and Schimdt's argument is particularly tantalizing: the "journalistic independence" they contend we might see in such an overhaul of our nation's old media...

By endowing our most valued sources of news we would free them from the strictures of an obsolete business model and offer them a permanent place in society, like that of America’s colleges and universities. Endowments would transform newspapers into unshakable fixtures of American life, with greater stability and enhanced independence that would allow them to serve the public good more effectively.
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Aside from providing stability, an endowment would promote journalistic independence. The best-run news organizations insulate reporters from pressures to produce profits or to placate advertisers. But endowed news organizations would be in an ideal situation — with no pressure from stockholders or advertisers at all.

Their optimistic thoughts on "enhanced independence" sound good, but whether that would come to fruition, as hoped, is another matter. We've all seen how even non-profits are beholden to the whims and ideals of their major contributors. But the overall suggestion certainly merits discussion in the face of what the future may bring to so many of our dinosaur friends.

Or, we could just let 'em crash and burn and find out what happens next...