25 January 2017

Non-profit journalism should dominate the UK

Not-for-profit journalistic organisations improve the quality of journalism, and so should become commonplace in the UK. This follows a growing trend in the US, where there are currently 150 non-profit groups and counting. The managing editor of one of the largest UK-based organisations, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), said: “The ability to focus purely on journalism – rather than clickbait (the latest obsession in newsrooms desperately chasing allusive digital advertisers) is a huge draw.”

Researchers from the American Press Association support these positive claims, finding that 99 per cent of these non-profits disclosed their funders at some level. The report also found little evidence to suggest that funders are requesting to read what journalists are writing before their publications go to print. Funding is sometimes provided by donors to write about certain topics, which is problematic if not made clear to the reader. But in the main the study found that non-profit news has helped journalism.

Yet journalists in these groups suffer from a lack of funding stemming from a general lack of money in the industry. The move to online-only saw some commercial papers and magazines die within their first year; more than half of newspapers that were early adopters of digital still find themselves steadily losing readers.

Journalism Professor Dan Gillmore argues that to make these non-for-profit organisations properly sustainable, both the UK and USA need to think outside the box on ways to increase financial backing. A strong business model is arguably even harder to achieve in the UK. Here, organisations must gain charity status to gain the same tax breaks as their US counterparts. This is no mean feat, with BIJ having been rejected twice so far. However, these obstacles have not stopped other UK journalistic organisations (such as Open Democracy, Bellingcat, the Ferret and the Bristol Cable) adopting the same model.

To paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt, nothing worth having is ever easy. But it is important that we keep UK press as balanced, honest and informative as possible, and with the deathly ravens of fake news circling in on us, not-for-profit journalism may just be one way to keep them at bay.


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