Make that $114 billion. For all of ’em

That’s what it would take to save every American newspaper in perpetuity as non-profit organizations, says Zachary M Seward at Nieman Journalism Lab. But he argues the important question isn’t “How much?” It’s “Should we?”

After all, does it make sense to “save” an unprofitable business? (Others have argued that too, notably NYU prof Jay Rosen.) Won’t saving them protect them from having to innovate in response to real changes in the way news is consumed? (If you’re hearing echoes of the arguments against bailing out the auto industry, you’re not alone.) Even more worrisome, will becoming nonprofit mean editors are insulated from having to consider what their readers–their customers–really want?

Here’s how Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo put it in arguing against the non-profit model in a speech last year:

“A lot of people think of independent media as being synonymous with nonprofit media — either intentionally nonprofit or accidentally nonprofit. But nonprofits get their money from somewhere, from foundations; now those foundations tend to have a much more benign set of “asks” of the organizations they support than advertisers do. But it still limits independence.

“In my experience, and I get criticized for saying this sometimes, at the [nonprofit] magazine that I worked for before I started TPM, the fact that our continued existence was not based on size or interest level of our readership allowed us to be cut off and not particularly in touch with what our readership had a fine interest in. I think that was not just bad in business terms, but much more importantly, bad in journalistic terms.

“I actually think that for the independent media sector to be independent and vital in a deep way, it needs to be not only rooted in the nonprofit sector, but again, in for-profit terms.”