Not everyone welcomes a letter from the Internal Revenue Service at year’s end, but there was celebration at the Rivard Report as we opened the office mail in December and learned that our application to become a 501(c)3 nonprofit had been granted. The exemption was made effective Aug 12, 2015, the date of our original application. We had expected a longer wait, and didn’t quite know what to make of the backdated approval.
What we did know is that a new chapter was opening for our small, but growing staff and the big ambitions all of us share to be the most valued news source for the engaged citizens of San Antonio.
We celebrate the Rivard Report’s fourth anniversary of publication on Saturday, Feb. 13. In nearly every U.S. city of any size, online media startups have emerged out of the disruption triggered by continuous technology innovation. Tech has revolutionized the media landscape, this time precipitating the steady demise of print periodicals. More news and information is consumed on handheld smart phones and tablets than any other platform, and that consumption is two-way. It’s interactive, it’s social, and it moves and morphs very fast.
The Rivard Report’s small staff has grown from four to eight people, and we publish a number of paid freelance contributors. We’ve published hundreds of non-journalists from all walks of life, giving their work the same display and prominence as our staff. Our first such contributor four years ago was Jeremy Fields, a former Lake/Flato architect here who compared his new life in Hamburg, Germany to what he found missing in San Antonio. The most recent community contributor was Keisha Bentley-Edwards, an assistant professor at UT-Austin, whose commentary on Black History Month appeared last week.
We’ve published highly successful tech entrepreneurs, school teachers and students, mayors and congressmen, artists and architects, priests and preservationists, CEOs and hourly wage workers, millennials and boomers, bartenders and food truck operators, developers and neighborhood leaders, community activists, homeless advocates, scientists and symphony musicians. We try to give voice to everyone with a meaningful message to share.
Why go nonprofit? Look around the country at our fellow members of the nonprofit Institute for Nonprofit News. Journalists everywhere, many former newspaper people like myself, are engaged in building new media models to serve their communities. With few exceptions, it has been a struggle to build something economically viable and sustaining. The for-profit business model was limiting the Rivard Report’s growth. We were stable but too small, with little prospect for sustained growth without outside investment. Yet investors wanted a return on their investment that the Rivard Report could not deliver. We kept our heads above water, but we could see nonprofit media faring better.
As a nonprofit, we will continue to accept the kind of advertising that now appears on the Rivard Report. We’ve never accepted advertising that was inconsistent with our mission of community service. Just as businesses (including the Rivard Report) support entities like Texas Public Radio and KLRN, the local public broadcasting television station, we will continue to accept that support here, while also becoming member-supported. Yes, we are asking for your membership and financial support. No sum is too small or too large. We will spend every dollar wisely.
We also will seek foundation support and grants, and reach out to the community of generous philanthropists in San Antonio. In fact, we already are the beneficiaries of some very generous philanthropic and foundation gifts. In the coming weeks, as we make changes on our website to reflect our nonprofit status, we will publish the source and amount of all our tax-deductible donor funds. There is a fair amount of administrative work converting to nonprofit status, but that work is nearly complete. In the next week, we will publish new Purpose, Mission and Governance Statements, a link to our code of ethics, and new Membership and About Us pages. We will introduce readers to our expanded staff and board of directors later this week.
With your support we will be able to offer a greater volume and range of content than we now offer. As we grow, we will undertake investigative projects, cover local government more thoroughly, add more business and tech news, extend our reach to other parts of the growing metropolitan area, expand arts and performing arts coverage, and serve as a better guide for life and recreation in the city and surrounding region. Expect more videos, more graphics and more multimedia packages.
We have long admired our neighbors to the north in Austin, the nonprofit Texas Tribune, which has set a national standard as a nonprofit, nonpartisan online news publication. The Tribune’s mission is different than ours. Journalists there cover state government and politics. We are a metro site with a different mix of news and features. What we do want to emulate is the Tribune’s level of excellence and relevance, its steady growth, and its success in attracting the kind of financial support necessary to sustain its operations.
As we have grown and our mission has expanded we have talked about a name change, something more institutional. We’ve tabled that conversation while we undertake all the other changes in this period of transition. For now, we are staying the Rivard Report, your reliable source of credible local news and information, and the place to tell your story. We are part of the much broader effort underway by so many to make San Antonio a better city. We invite you to join us. Click here to do so.
*Top Image: The view of the Tower of the Americas from the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Photo by Scott Ball.