Last updated: February 5, 2009 - 9:49am
[Commentary] We've finally reached the point at which some of the finest minds doing the biggest thinking about the battered news business believe the best eraser for red ink is ... charity. Although they weren't the first to make the pitch for newspapers on the dole, financial pros David Swensen, the chief investment officer at Yale, and his colleague Michael Schmidt gave the idea a boost last week in a New York Times op-ed. They posit that the best way to maintain the quality journalism of, say, the New York Times, would be to retool it as a nonprofit and run it from the proceeds of a $5 billion endowment. Missing from the nonprofit debate is any mention of why enough paying customers can't be found to support these news-gathering institutions if they are so vital to our "democratic constitutional system" (Coll) and "our democracy" (Swensen and Schmidt). The implication seems to be that political coverage, foreign dispatches, and investigative work are inherently noncommercial. If that's the case, has the publication of thousands of foreign, political, and investigative news stories ("quality coverage," to put it in shorthand) over the decades been an act of philanthropy by newspapers? Shafer would rather see Rupert Murdoch publish the New York Times than see it turned over to a foundation, and that's saying a lot.
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