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Newspapers might benefit from nonprofit status

As we complete our 25th year with this issue and begin the 26th year with May—when we published our first issue in 1984—we have taken time to reflect and celebrate what The Fig Tree has grown to be.

In a climate with many newspapers—dailies, weeklies and faith publications—closing, we celebrate that we continue on a path to growth.  There are some solid reasons for that. 

It’s interesting to learn that U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin (D) of Maryland recently introduced the Newspaper Revitalization Act to allow for-profit newspapers to operate as nonprofit organizations. 

“We are losing our newspaper industry.  The economy has caused an immediate problem,” he said.

It would be a way to offer tax breaks to a struggling industry because the journalistic voice is crucial to democracy.

The senator said the business model for newspapers, based on circulation and advertising revenues, is broken as profits have fallen in recent years.  The trade-off would be that newspapers would not make political endorsements, but would be allowed to report freely all issues, including political campaigns. 

The status would be like public broadcasting, supported by endowments.

David Swensen, who manages endowments at Yale University, wrote in an opinion column in the New York Times that endowments might “enhance newspapers’ autonomy” and protect them “from the economic forces now tearing them down.” 

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 universities,” he said.

Would endowments make newspapers beholden to large donors?  Would it be possible to raise the millions of dollars for such endowments?  Would they be able to offer a fair price to shareholders to make the shift?  Would endowments insulate against hard times?  Will foundations be interested?  What other options are there?

Newspapers are rethinking every aspect of their operations.

Meanwhile at The Fig Tree, we continue to operate as a nonprofit, drawing support for our unique efforts to provide stories that empower in the newly emerging model of what is being called “peace journalism.”

As we shared at the March 11 Benefit Breakfast, The Fig Tree is more than the media—the paper, ink and digital images. 

It’s about the people we interview, the people who entrust their stories to us to share, the people who read or view the stories, the people who volunteer, and the people who connect with other people to do something to make a difference, inspired and empowered by the stories.

We share stories of everyday people who in everyday ways care about people, justice, relationships, reconciliation, faith, creation and peacemaking. 

Lack of awareness keeps people apart, fearful and vulnerable to stereotyping, rather than relishing the joy and richness of diversity and conflicts as gifts given by God to open us to new ways to see life, to learn new approaches and even to love our enemies.

Communication historically empowers social movements to overcome injustices and empowers survivors of genocide, violence, abuse, crimes, injustices, poverty and war to be resilient, to tell their stories and to act.  Resilience means moving from suffering to overcoming, from forgiving to healing.

What a different society and world we would have if more media found nuances of peace and justice as compelling and exciting as war and violence. 

With the saturation of news about problems and conflicts, we find people responsive to stories of people stepping out of the usual modes to reconcile differences, to resolve conflicts, to solve problems and to restore relationships.

Yes, some people fail to live their faiths, but in the midst of those who fall short, we tell of people who care and act on their faith and values.  In the midst of institutions oppressing, corporations overreaching, countries warring and systems failing, we tell of institutions, corporations, governments and faith groups working for justice, healing and reconciliation.

For us, the nonprofit model works.

Mary Stamp