Give the employees of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune credit for creative thinking. They’ve launched a website intended to find a buyer for their newspaper that will not shut the doors as the Twin Cities’ biggest newspaper sinks in a sea of red ink. They also have a new business model in mind, too, one that would certainly set off screeches of class-warfare howling in the Strib’s editorial section if any other corporation tried it:
“With the Star Tribune in bankruptcy, Minnesota?s largest news source is in danger of going dark,” they said in a message on the website, savethestrib.com.
“We, the journalists who write, photograph, edit and present the news every day, are launching this campaign because we believe the Star Tribune is an essential community resource that is too valuable to lose,” they said.
“Our best chance of continuing to provide the breadth and quality of news, opinion, sports and entertainment coverage Minnesotans deserve is to attract a new owner who shares our values and who is ready to lead the Star Tribune into a new age,” they added.
“Help us convince a potential owner that great cities need robust news operations,” they said. “Save The Strib.”
The Strib has the opportunity to save itself, of course, by producing a better product at a lower internal cost. Much of its local coverage is commendable, but not so much so that the Strib distinguishes itself from its competitor in St. Paul, the Pioneer Press. It has James Lileks, whom the Strib (to its credit) recognizes as a value-added commodity. They need a new delivery and monetization model, but failing that, have to start containing costs and make some hard decisions on the scope of coverage for its print edition.
What they do not need is a corporate tax dodge, especially given their populist, class-warfare editorial bent. But that’s exactly what they’re proposing:
The Newspaper Guild has taken a leading role nationally in exploring ways for communities to invest in their local newspapers and preserve a vital community institution.
Because it’s so obvious the current business model for newspapers doesn’t work, we’ve been proactively investigating alternative ownership and business models that may ensure the Star Tribune will serve the Twin Cities community for many years to come.
These ideas include a low-profit limited liability corporation, the public television/radio model, micropayments, the Green Bay Packers model, non-profit/endowed organizations, employee ownership, and cooperatives.
The Guild is supporting federal legislation in Washington that would include newspapers among businesses that offer a “social benefit” to the community under current Internal Revenue Service rules. This would pave the way for a unique hybrid ownership model called an L3C – a low-profit limited liability corporation – that qualifies as a charity under IRS rules, but is operated as a for-profit business.
The Strib wants to make a profit, and then be exempted from taxation on it. Perhaps if the Strib started editorializing in favor of the elimination of the corporate tax, then this would seem marginally less hypocritical. But for a newspaper known for its rantings on soak-the-rich and corporate-fat-cat tax policies … let’s just say that they have no room to demand a change of status to a tax-exempt charity.
Surely there’s a story here somewhere. In the Age of Obama, L3C may just be the next big thing! You too can be a charity case, living on the kindness of strangers. While someone digs out the story, the idea I would like the Newspaper Guild to hear is that Minnesota would be better off without the Star Tribune.
I’d rather see them improve than disappear. However, I’d rather they disappear than get millions in government tax waivers by claiming to be a charity case.