Momentum is building in favor of the IRS changing its policy. In fact, the chair of the FCC, Julius Genachowski, has supported the change, noting that the rise of nonprofit news organizations can be important to fill gaps left by the faltering for-profit news industry. There is no clear indication whether the IRS stance will change anytime soon.
A blue-ribbon commission convened by the Council on Foundations. Has made a case for the IRS to update its definition of journalism for the digital age. Nonprofits need to be part of the solution to preserve local news and investigative journalism, which are falling victim to budget cuts at traditional media. Numerous scholars have also called for change including the journalism deans at Columbia University, Syracuse University, and the University of Southern California. They argue that the realities wrought by the digital age call for no less for the maintenance of an informed citizenry.
3.4.2 University Media Generators 1. Objective: Assess university-based journalism as a media model
A few university-based journalism programs have emerged as possible new media models. A legendary Capitol Hill reporter, Neil McNeil, created a bureau for Northwestern University students to feed Washington news to subscribing newspapers and television stations in 1967. A more recent Northwestern-based incubator of investigative reporting gained attention when David Protess created the Medill Innocence Project. The Innocence Project, based at the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York, has used DNA evidence to help exonerate many of the more than 300 people who were wrongfully convicted. Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity separately established a student investigative reporting unit at American University in Washington in 2009. There have been others at Brandeis University, the University of California at Berkeley, and Winona State University, where two curricular-related weeklies, Campus Life and the Independent operated for over 25 years.
The fact, however, is that not all universities, whatever their claims for academic freedom, have top-level administrators with the courage to support journalism’s commitment to tackle wrongdoing and abuses in powerful political and social institutions. As an example, the Protess project at Northwestern dissolved in controversy when university attorneys second-guessed decisions on news-gathering.
3.4.3 Family Ownership 1. Objective: Describe the family ownership business model
A nostalgia-driven alternative business model is a return to family ownership. Almost all media companies began as sole proprietorships. The usual pattern was for the founders to bequeath their companies to their heirs. Some families maintained ownership for subsequent generations, although federal inheritance tax laws in the latter 1900s forced most media families to sell outside the family, usually to chains that were eager to expand.
A factor figuring into revised interest in family ownership is ephemeral—pride of ownership. Whether the proverbial good ol’ days were better can be debated, but many thought the era of local family media era made for better content because a local family’s reputation was staked to the product that came off the press or went out over the air. There is history to bear this out, the Ochs family at the New York Times, generations of the Bancrofts at the Wall Street Journal, and families elsewhere with locally important paper and stations. Jay Hamilton of the Louisiana State University
journalism school has suggested that family owners may be willing again to trade off maximum profits for doing the right thing for their community. Hamilton’s point is that chain ownership put profits above community good. Local families, he says, generally would be not only be inclined less to be myopic about profits but also less inclined to neglect local values.
Clearly, inheritance tax laws would need to be adjusted to encourage family media ownership again. The current tax code imposes unusually stiff levies on estates, with a death tax, as it’s called, of 55% heir tax. A media property worth $100 million would need to raise $55 million for federal taxes. More would be due in states that have their own inheritance tax laws. Raising the money to pay the tax usually means incurring significant if not impossible debt—or selling the newspaper outside of the family, as the Graham family was forced to do when they sold The Washington Post to Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon.com, in October 2013.
Many see a tax policy change to encourage family media ownership only as a bandage, not a sustainable solution. For instance, media economist Robert Picard states, “You can have all the tax breaks in the world to support family ownership, but the fact is about 80 percent of family firms never survive the second generation.”
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