On the surface, a not-for-profit alternative media model appears to be a flawless alternative to the corporate model we see today. Say, for example, you’re a newspaper that caters to LGBTQ issues and advocacy, under this model you would be funded by prominent gay rights activists, maybe a George Takei or Cynthia Nixon, or you could get funded by a deep-pocketed non-profit foundation such as Freedom to Marry or Human Rights Campaign. It’s a sort of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” situation in which it would appear the funders and news-makers have the same interests in mine. Seems great, right? Wrong. An article on Slate.com elaborates:
But before we get out the party hats and noise-makers to celebrate the rise of nonprofit journalism, here’s the bad news. In the current arrangement, we’re substituting one flawed business model for another. For-profit newspapers lose money accidentally. Nonprofit news operations lose money deliberately. No matter how good the nonprofit operation is, it always ends up sustaining itself with handouts, and handouts come with conditions.
Indeed, here we can see a familiar problem being reborn. Though funding from a non-profit foundation or prominent activist may upon first glance appear to be benign, much in the same dynamic of the corporate media, news-makers are now beholden to the will of their funders. Say our hypothetical paper wanted to publish an opinion piece by a gay activist who believes the fight for marriage detracts from the overall fight for equality, if Freedom to Marry was a funder they would be opposed to this sort of coverage. The potential in this hypothetical is that Freedom to Marry could then withhold funding based on a political agenda and depending on the paper’s financial standing, they may need to alter their coverage to accommodate this agenda. It’s a sticky situation, because for many new independent media organizations, non-profits and activists are the main source of funding and prove to be more morally sound than corporate sponsorship. Yet the potential still exists for there to be negative impacts on the content of the news organization. Perhaps it’s time to re-invent media funding mechanisms altogether?