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Conversion Guide

Becoming a nonprofit news outlet is one proven and successful strategy for preserving news in the face of changing economics that have seen nearly two thousand newspapers shut down in recent years.

This guide is intended as a quick overview for those exploring this path, whether you are a publisher or a civic or business leader seeking to preserve a trusted news outlet. It should not be considered legal advice. We encourage you to consult your state law and work with legal and financial advisers. We hope it is helpful as a kind of extended FAQ to help you get started and find resources.

This guide is brought to you by the Institute for Nonprofit News, which supports and advances the growth of more than 300 nonprofit news organizations in the U.S. and Canada.

This guide may be useful to national news outlets but focuses largely on local news, as family owners and locally run weeklies and dailies are exploring their options: Would converting to a nonprofit give their communities a way to sustain local reporting? Would it give owners an exit strategy that preserves the legacy of their newspapers and their dedication to their readers and communities?

We want to acknowledge that dedication, and to thank those of you who are publishers for the extraordinary steps you’ve already taken to preserve your newsrooms in the face of a global market shift in media. We understand and appreciate that the challenges to supporting good local journalism go far beyond an issue of digital transformation. Even the most dedicated newspaper owner, the savviest publisher, is navigating a global shift in the economics of advertising and journalism. Simply put, in most markets, news has ceased being a commercial business and is now something a community should look at as a public good – like our roads, our libraries, our local schools and hospitals, newsrooms are now a civic asset, and we as citizens are finding new ways to support the news we need.

An exciting part of this emerging movement is the recognition that local news is a civic rather than commercial enterprise. These are institutions the community relies on, and in turn, news organizations are turning to their community for financial support. The number of nonprofit news organizations is growing exponentially. Community leaders, readers and journalists realize local news is key to healthy, vibrant, engaged communities and thus merit philanthropic support. Publishers and community leaders are finding common interest in not only keeping their trusted newsrooms alive, but in ensuring their long-term public service role. And no matter your role – as a publisher, reporter, reader or foundation – we welcome you to this conversation.

While there are several legal structures to consider, including a Public Benefit Corporation, a subsidiary entity owned by an existing charity, ownership through a nonprofit association, trusts, hybrid for-profit/nonprofit partnerships, or cooperative with employee ownership, this guide focuses on a traditional nonprofit corporation exempt as a charity under 501(c)(3).

The guide outlines the main considerations and next steps for publishers thinking of converting to nonprofit 501(c)(3), with tools and resources for further research. If you are starting a nonprofit news organization, INN can assist as well – but this guide is a short and informative overview of the major considerations involved in taking an existing newspaper and turning into a public charity. It is not meant to be comprehensive, but links to many resources that can help you dive deeper into important topics. This guide is written for you, and the Institute for Nonprofit News is here to help. We believe in what you do and wish you the very best in exploring ways to strengthen and sustain your news.

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