Illinois Paper to Become Nonprofit

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

For the second time in recent weeks, a family-owned daily newspaper is seeking to preserve local ownership by turning itself over to a foundation.

The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill., an evening daily with a weekday circulation of 42,048, is the latest newspaper to take the nonprofit route to continued independent ownership. In December, H. Brandt Ayers, publisher of The Anniston (Ala.) Star, announced plans to eventually transfer the 25,956-circulation daily from its joint ownership under him and his sister, Elise Ayers Sanguinetti, to a foundation. An Ayers Institute, supported by the foundation, will create a graduate program in community journalism with the University of Alabama that would be taught at the Star.

As was the case in Anniston, the foundation plan created by The News-Gazette‘s late owner was inspired by the example of the Poynter Institute’s ownership of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, said Editor and General Manager John Foreman. News-Gazette Inc. Chairman Marajen Stevick Chinigo, who died Dec. 22, was adamant that the newspaper and its two sibling radio stations remain locally owned and operated.

David Downey, director of the trust Chinigo established before her death, said the plan calls for ownership to be transferred to a private foundation to be called the Marajen Stevick Foundation. “Having no heirs, she wanted [the foundation] to revert to the name of her mother and father,” Downey said.

The Stevick foundation would support another foundation that would benefit local charitable causes. The foundations would be activated after the estate emerges from probate, which Downey said could take as long as two or more years.

News-Gazette managers are delighted with the aims of the foundations, if confused about the process, Foreman said: “We’ve got a whole room full of lawyers telling us how it works.”

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