The Santa Monica Daily Press could become a nonprofit organization according to recent statements by its longtime owner.
In a statement published on Oct. 2, co-owner and current Publisher Ross Furukawa said he is considering the future of the paper with several options on the table including converting the company to a nonprofit organization. Furukawa said he is interested in the nonprofit model as a means of preserving independence for the paper and said at least one organized effort is afoot to potentially convert the company into a nonprofit organization.
Nonprofit journalism has existed for years and today’s Associated Press is actually a nonprofit cooperative but efforts to convert or incorporate nonprofit status into an existing company is a growing trend in the modern media landscape. A 2013 study by the Pew Research center into nonprofit journalism examined 172 outlets and found 70 percent were founded after 2008.
The report said despite their nonprofit status, the outlets still faced fiscal challenges with 54 percent identifying business, marketing and fundraising as their greatest area of need. However, the study also found a high degree of optimism about the nonprofit model.
“But what stands out more than anything is how nearly universal the sense of optimism is among this sector,” said the report produced by Amy Mitchell, Mark Jurkowitz, Jesse Holocomb, Jodi Enda and Monica Anderson. “The optimism is found among outlets with sizeable revenue, as well as small; outlets with substantial foundation support and those with little; outlets with many staff and large operations as well as those that operate mostly with volunteers. In other words, financial stability is not a prerequisite for a sense among editors and directors that their nonprofit news outlet would survive well into the future.”
In his statement, Furukawa said the company is currently secure both in revenue and readership but change is inevitable within the industry. He said making a change while times are good allows the company to direct its future rather than be forced to accept less optimal solutions if change were forced upon the business.
“Given the totality of the situation, I’m considering several options for the future of The Daily Press,” he said. “Some of those options could include changes in ownership or the tax-status of the organization. Pursuing a non-profit model is a new trend for our industry, and it’s one that I think best fits my continued belief in the importance of locally produced, independent, professional news. While nothing is set in stone at this time, a group of local supporters has begun work on establishing a new foundation that, if successful, could become the new home of The Daily Press.”
News organizations can become nonprofits if they can prove to the Internal Revenue Service they meet an educational need within society. Approvals at the whim of the IRS have been criticized and the Pew study said relocating a news organization under a standalone nonprofit is an easier solution. According to the study, only 29 percent of the nonprofit organizations acquired their own 501(c)(3) status.
The effort to build a new nonprofit to operate the paper is currently in the hands of Damien Newton. According to his online biography, he “is the founding editor of Streetsblog Los Angeles, and manages the non-profit that oversees the publishing of a handful of community news websites including Santa Monica Next. Damien has been awarded for excellence in journalism by the Society of Professional Journalists, the LA Press Club, the Annenberg School of Journalism, the American Planning Association, and LA Weekly.”
He said the Foundation would be separate from his other projects.
According to Newton, the initial fundraising effort is aimed at a broad section of the community.
“We didn’t want to have this be a campaign that’s just dominated by large dollar donors, we want this to be a campaign that certainly has those people in it hopefully, but also has a lot of small dollar donations,” he said.
Newton said the initial push specifically targets residents “because we want people to feel and understand this is our chance to keep the Daily Press as a powerful daily local newspaper instead of what’s happening at the LA Times, the OC Register or what happened with the Outlook.”
In addition to Newton, the board of the new foundation would include Furukawa and local nonprofit specialist Abby Arnold. Newton said more board members would be announced as the campaign grew.
Furukawa said the paper’s mission would remain regardless of ownership. “Our independent Santa Monica focused journalism will remain top priority for the organization, agnostic of ownership, and that my board seat will ensure that our long standing reputation will continue for years to come,” he said.
The Daily Press was founded by Dave Danforth, Ross Furukawa and Carolyn Sackariason on November 13 2001. The trio met while working at the Aspen Daily News and they decided to export the successful “micro-daily” model from the winter resort town to beachy southern California.
The paper followed the Santa Monica Outlook, a beloved local institution that published from 1929- 1998. At the time, the Daily Press Founders said the loss of the Outlook was attributable to the corporate buyouts that eventually swallowed the once independent publication.
“Pursuing a non-profit model is a new trend for our industry, and it’s one that I think best fits my continued belief in the importance of locally produced, independent, professional news,” said Furukawa in his statement this week.