We hear a lot about the death of traditional print media. Newspaper sales are down, digital consumption is up, advertisers are fleeing like rats from a sinking ship—yadda yadda yadda.
Although (as some fastidious commentators point out) there remains a path forward for those Big Name papers that reinvest in content and get aggressive about multi-platform integration, it’s undoubtedly the case that the ground has long been shifting beneath the feet of our traditional media institutions.
Sometimes this ground-shift has pushed papers in the direction of motivated investors eager to expand into the fourth estate. Thus, for instance, the much-discussed purchase of the Washington Post by Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who bought the prestigious broadsheet for $250 million in 2013.
But sometimes the profit crunch on newspapers has pushed them in the opposite direction: not into the arms of a single corporate sugar daddy but rather out into the wide open field of philanthropic fundraising. Such is the case, for example, with The Guardian, Britain’s premier left-of-center daily which recently set up a 501(c)(3) outfit Stateside in order to help generate high-dollar gifts.
And now America’s newspaper of record is getting in on the act.
The New York Times announced earlier this month that it would be establish an official in-house operation exclusively devoted to procuring outside philanthropic funding. And as a sign of how seriously the Times takes this task, it assigned Deputy Executive Editor Janet Elder to take the helm (Elder is a Times veteran who had most recently been responsible for talent management, operations, and the newsroom’s budget).
Already in their press release announcing the new department the paper managed to name-check some of the foundations it has its sights set on, while also hinting at the possibility of national and international collaboration with local news partners. Maybe the new revenue brought in by Elder and her team will help reshape news coverage at the Times and better equip it to meet the challenges and opportunities of a rapidly changing media landscape.
But—as others have already pointed out—it’ll now be significantly harder going for small, independent news outlets that rely on nonprofit dollars to survive. When the Gray Lady enters the room, she takes up a lot of oxygen.
In any case, the lesson is one we’ve seen before: As traditional institutions stumble, philanthropy’s influence will only continue to rise.