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California Newspaper Finds Salvation in Vermont Business Law


A California newspaper once on the brink of collapse is being heralded as a new model for journalism — and it's largely thanks to Vermont.

The Point Reyes Light, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly serving Marin County, recently incorporated in Vermont as "low profit" limited liability company, or L3C. That means it can accept donations from charities while still remaining a for-profit company. It's a hybrid business model that Vermont passed into law two years ago and it's garnering widespread attention for its potential to save the struggling newspaper industry.

Like many newspapers, the Point Reyes Light was shedding reporters, editors and photographers as advertising and circulation revenues vanished, and the quality of news was suffering, says business manager Renee Shannon. In recent years, the newsroom went from two editors, two full-time reporters and several interns to only one of each and a controversial editor-in-chief was ruffling readers' feathers.

A group of journalists, educators and philanthropists wanted to rescue the paper by purchasing it and making it a nonprofit. But they found that federal tax code would make nonprofit status prohibitively complex. Through a colleague, the publisher of the alternative weekly East Bay Express, they learned that in Vermont, they could set up as a "low-profit" venture and still accept funds from nonprofits.

So they established the Marin Media Institute, a nonprofit that owns and directs operating funds to the Point Reyes Light.