June 27, 2012

Why nonprofit newspapers, like #TexasTribune, are bad

Editor and Publisher has a great synopsis of why they're not good for journalism. Three main points.

1. Their news coverage is restricted by wealthy donor interests and pressures. (E&P has specifics in the TT's case, re John Sharp/Texas A&M.) So, no "probing" journalism, if told not to. (That said, I've experienced that at for-profit papers, too.)

2. "Freeloading" by for-profit papers, with the possible result of further salary depression, etc.

3. Back-scratching for friends. Evan Smith's $315K salary as the Trib's executive editor has been mentioned by me before. I consider it out of line in general, especially since one of the Trib's "sponsors," Texas A&M, gets taxpayer money.

The first point is something I've seen coming down the point for some time. Rich funders of nonprofit papers, whether individuals or foundations, can steer these papers into boutique journalism, spike or lighten negative stories and more. 

Here's another T-Trib story, a good one that could have been better, about drought and farmers depleting the Ogallala Aquifer. But, no questions were asked, facts stipulated, or anything else, about global warming and climate change. Why not?

Anyway, next time you see the Trib do an in-depth piece, ask further questions of the story.


Ed Darrell said...

Texas Tribune does more probing reporting day-in and day-out than any other organization in Texas, with the possible exception of the Dallas Morning News.

If non-profit status is supposed to be bad, why has it worked so well for the Tribune, and for Texas's other well-respected investigative outlet, the Texas Observer?

Gadfly said...

The Observer is a special situation. Let's see how it does with just the foundation, and Bernard and Audre themselves both dead.

Even if they do good reporting at times, I challenge you to defend Evan Smith getting paid nearly $400K. It's gross overpayment in the for-profit newspaper world, and, should be for nonprofits of similar size to the Trib.

Ed Darrell said...

$400,000 is a reasonable amount for the head of a news organization with an international impact; not so much that he's overpaid, as others in news are underpaid.

And, it's not like the Tribune doesn't cover warming: http://www.texastribune.org/2013/04/22/panel-airs-climate-testimony-house-strips-global-w/

Gadfly said...

Let me add that I'm in the newspaper biz, and the potential perils of being primarily supported by a single nonprofit foundation, or individual incorporating as such, have been extensively discussed in major industry magazines. This is not just my opinion, and I've written other blog posts about it.

Gadfly said...

"International impact"? This is the Texas Tribune, not the New York Times.

But, say whatever else you want.

Gadfly said...

Oh, and wrong on the salary level, too. Again, I've worked at a seven-day daily. Publisher of something that size should be making, say, $100K less. (That's not counting if there's any money infusion from the NYT on that relationship.)