Tax-Exempt Journalism and the IRS

With a decline in advertising revenue and a disruption of traditional business models threatening for-profit journalism, a growing number of news ventures have elected to operate as non-profit organizations. Many of these ventures depend upon receiving a federal tax exemption from the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Under Section 501(c)(3), non-profits organized and operated exclusively for certain purposes can be declared exempt from federal income taxes. But because journalism in and of itself is not a tax-exempt purpose recognized by the IRS, obtaining Section 501(c)(3) status for a non-profit newsroom can be a challenging and confusing process. The video below helps to debunk some of the more common myths and misconceptions.

(The Digital Media Law Project would like to thank: Eric Newton and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for their sponsorship of this video; Daniel Jones, Digital Media Producer for the Berkman Center; and the team at Ogmog Creative.)

Understanding what the IRS is looking for can increase your likelihood of success. For that reason, the Digital Media Law Project has developed the following resources to help you through the process. None of the information on this site is intended as a substitute for the advice of an attorney; obtaining the assistance of an lawyer familiar with IRS tax exemptions will greatly improve your chances of attaining tax-exempt status. But getting informed about the process before you start can help you to avoid significant hurdles later on.

First, start by reviewing basic information about Section 501(c)(3), and our checklist of factors that might affect your decision to pursue a tax exemption. If Section 501(c)(3) status sounds right for your organization, you can get ready to speak with an attorney by learning more about how the IRS evaluates applications from journalism non-profits, and gathering the materials you will need for your application. You can also review successful applications from other journalism organizations to see the amount of work that goes into seeking a tax exemption, and how these organizations explained their educational activities to the IRS.

Click on the links below to begin.

A brief discussion of what Section 501(c)(3) status is and what it allows (and does not allow) a non-profit organization to do. Includes a checklist to help you decide whether a Section 501(c)(3) tax exemption might be right for your venture.
Detailed information for journalism non-profits and their attorneys about how the IRS evaluates journalism applications for 501(c)(3) status. Includes an in-depth guide to the factors considered by the IRS.
Nuts and bolts information about the process of setting up a journalism non-profit and seeking a tax exemption, from the DMLP Legal Guide. Includes a discussion of the materials you will need to gather and the forms you will need to prepare.
A collection of application materials from journalism non-profits that have received their Section 501(c)(3) tax exemptions from the IRS, to assist in discussions with an attorney about preparing your own application. NOTE: Although these materials are helpful to understand how other organizations have approached the application process, you should not simply copy them. Each organization is unique.

If, after reviewing the materials above, you would like assistance locating a lawyer to help with the IRS process, please visit our Legal Assistance page. You can find information there about locating pro bono and reduced fee legal help, including information about referrals through our attorney referral service, the Online Media Legal Network. (Please note that before referring organizations for Section 501(c)(3) assistance, we will generally require that they have reviewed the resources above.)


Last updated on March 17th, 2014

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