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Chapter Ten

Embracing being a nonprofit or a public benefit organization means more than legal and tax changes. It can mean changes to your editorial policy and other operational policies. While most news organizations pledge to serve the public, and many journalists are passionate about public service, they will still need to change in some important ways to comply with federal tax guidelines. 

IRS guidelines prohibit partisan political activity in organizations that seek exemption as a charity under section 501(c)(3). For many news organizations, that means they stop endorsing candidates for elected offices. You can still cover campaigns and elections and have a robust editorial page with opinion pieces and columns, but you’ll want to be sure you understand how to adjust what you do. 

For many journalists, accustomed to a clear separation between the newsroom and the advertising department, maintaining editorial independence from donations and community involvement is a concern. You’ll set up clear policies and statements on the roles of board members and donors or other funders. Support for your nonprofit doesn’t mean any individual or sponsoring organization will make editorial decisions on coverage or story play. Having a clear and well thought out policy and process for publication of op-eds or guest commentary also is important to avoiding any implication of partisan behavior by a nonprofit news organization. 

Meanwhile, some journalists may want training to embrace the community service aspect of their work. What does being responsive to the community mean for beat reporters? How does coverage planning meet the organization’s public mission? You’ll want to think these issues through and offer clear guidance and dialogue with your staff.


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