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While traditional news outlets have struggled to secure financial stability in today’s digital marketplace, some of the most exciting and impactful journalism has emerged from a growing number of nonprofit news organizations.

Take the Puerto Rico Center for Investigative Journalism for example. The organization’s investigative research sparked mass protests that compelled the island’s corrupt governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign from office. The resignation marked the first time in history that a popular movement in Puerto Rico ousted a governor outside of an election.

The United States is home to scores of news groups that work outside of the private sector, providing the in-depth journalism necessary for a healthy, functioning democracy. A recent announcement by an influential publication in Chicago may indicate that more outlets will follow suit.

Owners of the Chicago Reader—the storied alternative weekly—have announced that they will transition the publication into a nonprofit, passing the reins to the Reader Institute for Community Journalism in 2020.

In the past, alternative weeklies flourished across the country, granting readers insight into local politics and culture. As news became less profitable over the years, many shuttered; major alternative papers in Philadelphia and New York City have ceased print publication.

The Chicago Reader actually managed to reverse its fortunes over the past year by boosting revenue, a fact that may position the paper to emerge stronger than ever following its adoption of a nonprofit status.

“More media companies are turning nonprofit to expand their support networks,” The Chicago Reader’s publisher Tracy Baim said, “The Reader has a very loyal readership. We believe community-supported journalism is an important part of the future for most independent media, and certainly for the Reader.”

Today, local journalism languishes, even in major media markets. The Chicago Reader’s experiment may provide a model for other alternative weeklies looking for a viable path forward. The nation’s political culture only stands to benefit from the rise of nonprofit news organizations.


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