Home > Blog Allies, Blogging/Tech/New Media, Conservatism/Activism, Fiscal Policy, MSM > Do Citizen Journalists Owe the IRS?

Do Citizen Journalists Owe the IRS?

Of late mainstream media outlets have attempted to co-opt the movement towards independent journalism by creating their own outlets with the Average Joe can upload their own videos and reports, attempting to cut into the success of bloggers and YouTubers. It’s largely been a sideshow for many, although there have been instances where it has greatly enhanced coverage (to wit, the Virginia Tech shootings, where students on the ground submitted videos of the chaos on campus). However, according to StinkyJournalism.org, these citizen journalists may very well owe Uncle Sam some money for their hard work:

 While the “volunteers” have their own personal reasons for giving their work away—everything from raising their own profiles or exposing corruption and criminality to pure altruism—they may be unknowingly stepping into a tax minefield. Indeed, according to the rules of the Internal Revenue Service, this popular cost-slashing strategy—the business model for which is based on transfers of content (intellectual property) from citizen journalists to media outlets at no fee—may subject the contributors to a gift tax.

With this in mind, StinkyJournalism.org has asked the question: Is the “donation” of a citizen’s content (video, articles, commentaries, images) to for-profit media outlets that exceeds a fair market value of $12,000 in any single year subject to gift tax? Judging from the IRS guidelines, the answer is “yes.”


The bottom line: StinkyJournalism.org has uncovered a real hornet’s nest for both for-profit media companies’ business models and citizen journalists who must now examine how much work they have “donated” to any one media outlet over the past year. You should ask your accountant for help. You may even need to go to the expense of hiring a professional copyrights appraiser to help you declare what is called the fair market value (FMV) of your donations, as required by the IRS, and to file a 709 gift tax form. Your professional tax advisors may even suggest that you go back retrospectively for several years to consider re-filing taxes and sending in 709 forms for previous years, if the values seem like they would exceed the previous years’ $12,000 annual excemptions.

I would consult a tax lawyer before you going trawling around the IRS site for hours to figure out if you might soon be joining the ranks of Tom Daschle and Timothy Geithner as those on Uncle Sam’s list. However, it goes to show demonstrate once more the closing gap between the creative class and the professional media and just how many options are out there for those who want to combine activism with reporting. 

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