NYTimes Considers Asking for Foundation Grants

Last Updated Jul 20, 2009 1:08 PM EDT

In its continuing search to expand its business model toward some new mix of revenue that might help sustain its expensive news-gathering system, The New York Times is actively considering approaching foundations for the kinds of grant support that helps non-profit news organizations stay afloat.

This news broke Friday night, when Bill Mitchell posted an article based on his interview with Times assistant managing editor (and "standards editor") Craig Whitney on Poynter.org. Mitchell, who analyzes new media business models for Poynter, reports that Whitney said, ""We've begun to ask ourselves whether it would be possible to get the kind of support that NPR (National Public Radio) does from foundations for its journalism."

Then, in a followup yesterday, titled "One Newspaper, Many Checkbooks," the paper's "public editor," Clark Hoyt, elaborated on Whitney's comments. "The Times is searching for new streams of money and opening itself to partnerships and arrangements far from the old model..."

That model including reliance on "hundreds and hundreds of advertisers, none big enough to influence the journalism in any way." (Note: This may be a tad idealistic in that not all advertisers were, or are, created equal from a publisher's point of view. Reference the recent scandal over influence-peddling at The Washington Post.)
In any event, these new ideas include the following: "Times executives and editors have even discussed seeking foundation support to underwrite sections of the paper, or categories of news, like Science Times..."

In my book, this is all good stuff. The Times has already partnered with a number of NPOs to publish good investigative reporting, and this latest push to re-examine the possibilities reportedly come in lieu of contact with the innovator David Cohen of Spot.us and an international environmental story that otherwise might never see the light of day.

The advantages of multiple streams runs like a leitmotif through many of our explorations of business models here at Bnet. In case you are wondering how a for-profit company like The Times can accept tax-exempt grants from foundations, there are plenty of precedents, when it can be demonstrated that the grants go to support work that otherwise would not be able to be funded through regular channels.

So this effort, combined with last week's report that the newspaper is surveying subscribers to see whether it is feasible to charge for online content, is further evidence that if The Times is going go away, it's not going to do so quietly, but rather kicking and screaming into the long night ahead, during which a new sustainable manner of gathering and publishing "all the news that's fit to print" will have to be born.

And, come to think of it, they might just wanna drop that motto somewhere between here and the other side of the tunnel...
Recent Bnet Coverage of The New York Times Co. by Cathy Taylor and me:

July 14 Latest Attempt by NYT to Erect Paywall Unlikely to Succeed
July 9 Compete: Twitter.com Now 1.5X as Big as NYTimes.com
July 1 A Physicist Explains How Online is Killing Newspapers
June 30 AdAge: Two Years of Life (at least) for The Times
June 11 Comedy Central and the New York Times Collide and it's a Train Wreck
June 11 How The Times Bested The Daily Show (A Contrarian View)
June 9 The New York Times' REALLY Big Ad
June 9 What Does the NY Times Want From Boston?
June 2 Print Media Online: NYT is the Leader
May 27 Creditor Slim Expects NYT Print Version To Disappear, etc.

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital, Salon.com, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.