August 15, 2016

After six consecutive years of losses, the Poynter Institute today reported in an Internal Revenue Service filing a surplus of roughly $900,000 for 2015.

The result was driven by a gain on sale of land and a building as well as increased revenues and reduced expenses.

On an operating basis, the institute still ran at a loss of $1.3 million. That was an improvement of 42 percent on 2014’s operating loss of $2.26 million.

About $500,000 of the loss was from one-time expenses, mainly for severance payments to several faculty and administrators who have left the institute.

Revenues were up 32 percent and expenses down 6 percent. Excluding the one-time items, expenses were down 13 percent.

While not offering a dollar forecast for 2016 results, President Tim Franklin said that he expected the operating loss would further narrow. And he added, “we expect to operate close to break-even for 2017.”

The institute closed the year with assets of $39.1 million, up from $38.2 million at the end of 2014.

Detail of its balance sheet show as a receivable a loan of just under $6 million Poynter made to the Tampa Bay Times parent, Times Publishing Company, to facilitate buying the Tampa Tribune.

The Times began negotiations in 2015, completed purchase of the the Tribune May 3 and immediately folded the publication.

Franklin, who became president of Poynter in 2014, said that the arrangement is that the Times will repay the loan with interest as its own finances improve by adding subscribers and advertisers from its former competitor.

Poynter owns the Times and that is its biggest asset, carried at a consistent value of $22,366,624 year-to-year. The next largest asset is its building, which has a depreciated value of $12.2 million.

The financial information is in a so-called Form 990, which nonprofits are required to file annually to maintain their tax-exempt status. The form resembles a tax return but also contains the sort of information found in the earnings reports of public companies.

Other details of Poynter’s finances in the 990 and Franklin’s commentary include:

  • Revenues continue to grow, particularly from training partnerships with major media companies including Gannett, the Associated Press and McClatchy.
  • Financial support from foundations, along with corporate and individual contributors were particularly strong for the year, up 41 percent over 2014.
  • Investment income from Poynter security holdings, which accounted for some of the improvement in 2014 over 2013, were off in 2015, both because the stock market softened and because some securities have been sold to cover operating losses. Poynter’s portfolio stood at $3 million at year’s end.
  • In the real estate transactions (reported when they occurred) the institute sold land adjacent to its building for $6 million to the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and an office building for roughly $700,000. In reporting income for the transactions, Poynter showed its gain on the assets rather than the full price.
  • Poynter netted nearly $100,000 from its first Bowtie Ball gala, honoring CBS newsman Bob Schieffer for lifetime achievement. The event will be repeated in 2016 with NBC’s Tom Brokaw the honoree.
  • In 2015, Poynter became home to the International Fact-Checking Network of more than 100 news organizations in 40 countries. It also provided training for the U.S. State Department to 100 international journalists named fellows of the Edward R. Murrow Program. Both continue this year.
  • In January 2016, Poynter completed a major redesign of its Poynter Online website. It has since received a grant of $758,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to rebuild its digital learning platform, News University.

Poynter once received most of its annual operating income in the form of dividends from Times Publishing. At a peak these totaled $6 million, but they have been suspended for several years as the paper faced financial challenges.

The institute has steadily built its income from other sources and now rents space in its building to a variety of tenants and for various events.

The 990 format requires Poynter to report payments to trustees and include the compensation of those who work at the Times. The three highest earners are Times CEO and Poynter Chairman Paul Tash ($487,967), vice president Andy Corty ($337, 758) and chief financial officer Jana Jones ($289,973). None of those salaries count as expenses in Poynter’s budget.

At Poynter, Franklin was paid $279,299 last year, $50,000 of which was paid by the Tampa Bay Times in compensation for his service on the newspaper’s board of directors. Chris Martin, president of Poynter’s Foundation, who left at the end of 2014, was paid $128,492 in severance. Five senior faculty members — Roy Clark, Butch Ward, Al Tompkins, Kenny Irby and Vice President Kelly McBride — earned more than $100,000.

Irby left Poynter at the end of 2015.

Looking ahead, Franklin commented:

Rapid shifts in audience behavior and the emergence of new media platforms are remaking the media industry in profound ways. Poynter is responding to those changes aggressively to help journalists in the midst of this transformation hone their skills and grow their careers. Training has never been more important than it is now.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated McBride’s title.

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Rick Edmonds is media business analyst for the Poynter Institute where he has done research and writing for the last fifteen years. His commentary on…
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