43 Chicago Media Outlets Plan Fundraising, Some NPO Conversions

The Chicago Reader, an alternative newspaper based in the Windy City, is looking to attain nonprofit status as a way to survive the evolving media landscape. Leaders there are exploring fundraising for the publication and a variety of Chicago media outlets. 

In 2019, the Chicago Reader founded the Chicago Independent Media Alliance (CIMA), a consortium of independent media outlets, to provide editorial and business opportunities.

Publisher Tracy Baim discussed the plans for the paper in an interview on WBEZ, a Chicago NPR station. “I do think [the disruption from COVID-19] is going to shift the landscape of philanthropy and donors in a way that we have to take advantage of for the long-term,” Baim told Jenn White, host of Reset with Jenn White.

Baim continued, “The Chicago Reader is a union shop. I was on a call with the union a little while ago to talk about national efforts to make sure that it’s easier to convert to nonprofit status. The Reader is in the process of doing that, and there are some barriers to traditional legacy media and for-profit media converting, so if we can lower those barriers, that would be helpful.”

If the Chicago Reader is successful, it will follow in the footsteps of the Salt Lake Tribune, which in November became the first legacy newspaper to be granted nonprofit status by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Tribune is currently the primary beneficiary of the Utah Journalism Foundation, a stand-alone entity.

Similarly, earlier this month a group rallying under the heading Save Our Sun announced the intention to purchase the Baltimore Sun and convert the paper to nonprofit status. Save our Sun is made up of several organizations, including the paper’s union, the Goldseker Foundation and the Abell Foundation, two Baltimore-based community philanthropies.

CIMA has launched a month-long campaign to raise support funds. The 43 participating outlets include a mix of for-profit and nonprofit media, as well as a variety of ethnic, lifestyle, and special topic focuses. The campaign, which ends June 5, seeks non-deductible contributions for advertiser-supported media outlets that have seen their revenue plummet during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We’ve seen [reaction to the Covid-19 situation] as a partnership with the small business and nonprofit community of Chicago,” Baim told White. “We’ve donated tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of advertising over the last two months. We have pivoted and said, you know what, let us do some free stuff you while you are doing these other creative things to survive.”

While the contributions are not tax-deductible, those made to a general fund split among all 43 outlets will be partly matched by a variety of foundations. The Crossroad Fund, a Chicago-based entity that makes grants to community organizations supporting racial, social and economic justice issues. Donations can be made at savechicagomedia.org, and donors may specify which outlets they wish to fund.

As of mid-May, matching funds raised from a variety of foundations stand at around $40,000, Baim told WBEZ. Matching funds will be apportioned based on the amount each media outlet raises.

Campaign information and a donation page are found at https://savechicagomedia.org