This week the owners of Crosscut.com, of whom I am one, will likely vote to dissolve Crosscut LLC and donate the assets to a newly formed nonprofit called Crosscut Public Media. As Publisher David Brewster has written, a non-profit media outlet has potentially more sources of revenue and can be more pure as to mission. While it can continue to sell advertising, a nonprofit can also solicit reader memberships and grants, much as public radio does.
In 2003, National Public Radio received a generous bequest of $225 million from Joan Kroc, the wife of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, which boosted the public radio network's endowment and enabled it to expand news coverage and other programming with an estimated annual windfall of $10 million. The donation came with no strings attached.
That's a journalist's dream — a reliable stream of revenue that ensures news decisions can be made without outside interference. But without that sort of massive endowment, what does a non-profit news operation look like?