Who's Watching (Out for) the Watchers?: The First Amendment and Non-Profit Newspapers
Posted: 16 Nov 2009 Last revised: 3 Mar 2015
Date Written: November 16, 2009
U.S. Senator Ben Cardin has introduced The Newspaper Revitalization Act, which if passed would amend three sections of the Internal Revenue Code to expressly allow newspapers to become tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations. This paper explores the question of why from a First Amendment standpoint the public might wish struggling newspapers to restructure as tax-exempt organizations in spite of the proliferation of news sources now available. It also explores some of the problems that would or could accompany tax-exempt status and evaluates how seriously we should take those concerns.
Specifically, this paper discusses the basics of Cardin's proposal; why a Madisonian or marketplace model of free speech might compel the passage of this legislation; and arguments by those who suggest that citizen journalism or other models of newsgathering can replace newspapers. It also looks at potential drawbacks to the legislation, such as constitutional challenges based on viewpoint discrimination; whether newspapers will have to abandon editorial page endorsements or can structure their business models to keep them; potential increased scrutiny of reporters' objectivity; and the potential for newspapers to appear state-controlled rather than independent.
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