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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A nonprofit consortium of nonprofit journalism organizations had a record 28% membership growth last year.

Why it matters: The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed some struggling newsrooms to embrace the nonprofit model, an arrangement that allows news companies to accept charitable donations while still being able to sell ads and subscriptions.

By the numbers: The Institute for Nonprofit News says it helped facilitate five newsroom conversions to nonprofit status last year.

  • INN now counts 309 nonprofit journalism groups as members as of February. Its 2020 member growth included 26 startups, which helped to create new news organizations in news deserts across the country.
  • The group's NewsMatch fundraising campaign, the largest grassroots campaign to support nonprofit news in the U.S., exceeded $5 million for the very first time last year, with a 34% increase in newsroom participants (261 in total).

The big picture: The trend is continuing into 2021, as more local papers face pandemic-driven advertising headwinds.

The Baltimore Sun, The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, and a few other smaller papers, are being sold to a Maryland-based nonprofit as a part of hedge fund Alden Global Capital's agreement to buy Tribune Publishing last week.

  • The nonprofit, called the Sunlight for All Institute, is a public charity formed by Stewart Bainum Jr., a former Maryland politician and hotel magnate.

Earlier this month, 14 New Jersey weekly papers announced they are being converted to nonprofits.

Be smart: Nonprofit journalism isn't a new trend, but more for-profit entities are trying to change their status to nonprofits in recent history.

  • The Philadelphia Inquirer and its sister websites were donated to the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which is part of the Philadelphia Foundation and named after the outlets' owner.
  • The Salt Lake Tribune became a nonprofit so that it could start soliciting donations in 2019.

Between the lines: The nonprofit model has been challenged by IRS hesitation to categorize news companies, especially newspapers, as non-commercial entities.

  • "We explained to the IRS that their historic concern about newspapers being ‘commercial’ doesn’t reflect the current reality," said Meghan Biss, an attorney with the exempt organizations practice at Caplin & Drysdale who helped the Salt Lake Tribune pivot to a non-profit model in 2019.

The bottom line: "We have to subsidize reporting if we want democracy to survive," says Elizabeth Green, the CEO and co-founder of the non-profit local news company Chalkbeat. "Markets will not pay for all we need."

  • "It’s a classic public good problem: we all benefit from local news about public interest topics, even if we don’t pay for it," she said. "What advertising once subsidized now needs philanthropic support to thrive." 

Go deeper: Struggling media companies pivot to non-profits

Go deeper

Updated 8 mins ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Trump dogs "dull" DeSantis ahead of potential 2024 matchup

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Donald Trump is trashing Ron DeSantis in private as an ingrate with a "dull personality" and no realistic chance of beating him in a potential 2024 showdown, according to sources who've recently talked to the former president about the Florida governor.

Why it matters: The two are among the most popular Republicans in the country, and as the former president eyes another run in 2024, he's irked by DeSantis' popularity and refusal to rule out running against him.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy.
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: America struggles to keep schools open — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers.
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker

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