Module JG280

Not-For-Profit Journalism

Module author

Peter Downie

Concordia University

Learning objectives

After studying this module, you will be able to:

  • Define non-profit journalism and explain this journalistic genre;
  • Explain the reasons for this concept and why it is an interesting alternative to for-profit journalism in today's media enviromnet;
  • Give an overview of the historic development of the genre, including key persons who established this genre;
  • Reflect this appoarch critically.
Study point 1
Reading extract Not-for-Profit Journalism


Why Open School of Journalism believes that Not-for-profit Journalism is important zu know

When so many people are getting their news off of the internet, not as many people are purchasing publications, let alone subscribing to them. With the amount of information on the internet, not as many people are going to a newspaper's website to find the information they seek. However, some publications do not worry about the sales of their publications or the number of subscribers. This is because they are not in it for profit, and instead work the way any non-profit organization does.
Non-profit journalism, or NPJ, also known as Not-for-profit journalism, involves writing for a newspaper, magazine or other publication that distributes its issues without concern for profit. Like any not-for-profit organization, a not-for-profit newspaper depends on donations from helpful readers, and grants from foundations, for the money needed to keep going. And as such, a not-for-profit publication would depend on volunteer journalists and underpaid editors to obtain decent articles, as most not-for-profit journalistic organizations have very few paid staff, and sometimes none at all.

This sort of journalism is seen by many as a new trend, because it is so prevalent in today's world, and it is understandable that a lot of people would think that way. After all, with the amount of online readers a newspaper has, and with the amount of people getting their information on the internet rather than through traditional newspapers, a publication's costs would be significantly brought down. However, journalism as a not-for-profit business is not a new trend at all, but a way of contributing publications that has existed since the dawn of the newspaper industry.

1846 saw the beginning of non-profit journalism, when five newspapers banded together to share incoming reports on the Mexican-American War. From that journalistic experiment emerged the Associated Press, which still exists today as a non-profit cooperative. 

1973 saw the founding of New Internationalist Magazine, which is another long-lasting independent non-profit publication. Shortly after it was started, this newspaper began as a separate company in Australia in 1979 and continues to exist there as well. 

The Chicago Reporter and City Limits Magazine were established in the United States in 1974, with the purpose of covering social and economic urban policy issues. 

The Center for Investigative Reporting was founded in 1977, and became the oldest non-profit investigative news organization in the United States, the second oldest being the Center for Public Integrity, which was founded in 1989.

In 1997, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists was founded, and since then has evolved to the point where it works through 175 investigative reporters in at least 60 countries.

Other non-profit journalistic organizations include ProPublica, The Texas Tribune, MinnPost, Voice of San Diego,, the International Reporting Program, and The Huffington Post Investigative Fund. In addition, the Investigative News Network was formed by 20 non-profit news organizations in 2009, in order to discuss the issues facing non-profit newsrooms. And in 2010, a London-based not-for-profit initiative called the Bureau of Investigative Journalism was founded.

Though not-for-profit journalism seems more prevalent today, it in reality has a long history that goes as far back as the 1800s. The reasons for this type of journalism have changed significantly since its beginning, but the type of journalism itself remains much the same.

In today's economy, non-profit journalism is emerging more, due to shrinking newsrooms and limited funding. However, they are also suffering. Though a foundation may grant funding to a journalistic organization, sometimes in return for the publication covering certain topics, grants eventually expire, and other donations are irregular. Therefore, just because a non-profit or not-for-profit publication does not have to worry about debt or profit, money is still a issue for them, as they have to raise the funds to cover their expenses. Many of them may as well run ads on their sites to get their money, just like for-profit publications are doing.

Whether one wants to get involved in not-for-profit journalism or for-profit journalism depends on whether they are hoping to get paid or just want the experience, or how passionate they are about the topics covered in the publication. As far as starting one's own publication goes, the decision to make it a non-profit or a for-profit is based on the pros and cons of each one, and whether one would rather rely on donations and grants or on sales and website ads.