The NY Times has an interesting article looking at the concept of endowed newspapers
, with the idea being that, if you could build an endowment for a newspaper, such that it doesn't need to focus on a business model, it would get us past this whole "newspapers are failing" issue. The idea is that they would be set up like universities, as 501(c)(3) nonprofits, and with a large enough endowment, they wouldn't have to worry about business models anymore. As the article notes, a newspaper like the NY Times could survive on a $5 billion endowment -- which really isn't that much money. Of course, this isn't a new idea
at all, and has been talked about for over a century, with plenty of critics pointing out why it would never work all that well.
That said, even if the idea has some merit, what bothers me about the NY Times piece is that it seems to fall back on the assumption that journalism equals newspapers. It starts off with the Jefferson quote: "were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter" and proceeds to point out that we may be heading towards the former. Of course, that's not accurate. What Jefferson really meant was not "newspapers" but journalism. He used the term newspapers because that was
the only outlet for journalists of the time. However, these days, that's no longer true. There are many different media types where journalists exist -- from newspapers to radio to television to the internet. So, the crisis in newspapers is not a crisis in journalism, and acting as if it is distorts the debate.