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This is interesting: A.P. in Deal to Deliver Nonprofits’ Journalism

Four nonprofit groups devoted to investigative journalism will have their work distributed by The Associated Press, The A.P. will announce on Saturday, greatly expanding their potential audience and helping newspapers fill the gap left by their own shrinking resources.

Starting on July 1, the A.P. will deliver work by the Center for Public Integrity, the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and ProPublica to the 1,500 American newspapers that are A.P. members, which will be free to publish the material.

According to the article, this is just a 6-month experiment, but it leaves me somewhat optimistic. We've all seen how the business of newsgathering and distribution has shifted away from newspapers and towards blogs and television news channels. In response, there have been some attempts to "non-profitize" newspapers and news gathering organizations, including a bill proposed by Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-MD, to allow some of them to apply for non-profit status. Likewise, a major philanthropic organization in January awarded $5 million to 21 civic organizations, in order to expand information sharing in their communities.

I find this trend rather striking, as blogs, Twitter, and social networking sites have become major sources of news for millions of people. There have been a number of reasons proposed for this, including cost, inconvenience, and poor quality of reporting. This last point has only been accelerated by the gutting of many newsrooms in favor of syndicated content from Reuters, AP and others. As a result, local topical content has been diminished, creating a vicious death spiral for the newspaper industry. Even Google thought about getting in on the game, but decided it was too risky:

Google had looked at buying a newspaper but was "trying to avoid crossing the line" between technology and content, Mr Schmidt said. It was instead working with publishers to make their websites "work better" for online advertising.

More broadly, he added, Google had concluded that potential acquisition targets were too expensive or carried excessive liabilities.

"Clever ideas" about sheltering newspapers in non-profit structures had been suggested to the foundation but "they are unlikely to happen without some massive, massive set of corporate bankruptcies", Mr Schmidt said.

Regardless, I find AP's move a hopeful one, even as I wonder about its methodology for determining the kind of non-profit agency they will syndicate. Non-profit news organizations (NPNO) gain added legitimacy and voice from this move, and offers an opportunity for the public to voice its approval about the quality and type of reporting these non-profits perform. Despite the griping from the wingnuts, NPR really is relatively balanced and objective, and it has remained a valuable source of information for millions of Americans, the proof of which is its continued support during pledge drives.

That's not to suggest that a right- or left-leaning NPNO wouldn't get disproportionate marketshare, especially in regional areas (say, rural Alabama or the SF Bay Area), but there is a real opportunity here for the public to gain access to more balanced reporting through traditional models, such as the AP.

Originally posted to Isara on Sun Jun 14, 2009 at 08:14 PM PDT.

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