With the rise of fake news and click bait, it can be hard to find a trustworthy news source on the internet. Corporate ownership of media networks throws another wrench into the process. Traditional media is often distracted from real reporting by advertising quotas and profit margins. Are non-profit news organizations a better alternative?
In general, non-profit organizations are funded by grants and donations. A for-profit news organization is mostly dependent on advertising revenue. This seemingly unimportant difference in structure can greatly alter an organization's editorial decisions.
For-profit news outlets can fall prey to click bait and posting viral videos. These organizations tend to focus more on views and clicks rather than producing quality reporting. The more views their website has, the more money they can earn from advertising. Sometimes excellent journalism gets a fair amount of views and shares, but that isn't the norm.
Because non-profits are funded by grants and donations, editors can focus more on producing quality work than maximizing revenue.
Non-profit news organizations are much less focused on their views. While it does matter that people are reading and engaging with their content, attracting more and more eyeballs is not the main goal. Many non-profit news organizations were founded with the intention of expanding in-depth journalism. Others receive grants to cover a specific topic.
But because non-profits are funded by grants and donations, editors can focus more on producing quality work than maximizing revenue. This structure tends to favor quality journalism over viral content. However, non-profits tend to have a much smaller staff than their for-profit counterparts.
The classic example of a non-profit news outlet is National Public Radio, or NPR. Most of its funding comes from donations, but it does receive a small grant from the government. Other examples of non-profit news are Pro Publica, the Associated Press, Voice of San Diego, The Texas Tribune and Watchdog.org. The fastest and easiest way to determine if a news site is non-profit is its URL. Non-profits typically use the ".org" ending. You can also check their "about" page. Fair Observer is a non-profit, but it uses a ".com" URL.
However, not all for-profit news organizations are terrible. Many of them also produce quality journalism. The New York Times is an example of this. While it does sell advertising space on its website, the newspaper also depends heavily on subscriptions from its readers. While the Times has a long history of hard-hitting journalism, the news operation is also insulated economically from producing more click-bait pieces. The same goes for The Wall Street Journal. Surprisingly, Buzzfeed News has a robust and decent news gathering operation too.
Non-profit news organizations are less inclined to create and post click bait, but for-profit news outlets also have plenty of opportunities to produce quality journalism. It all depends on where you look.