L3Cs — time to define terms.

It seems we have our work cut out for us.

As we collectively blue sky different operational models for new media companies, we really have to work very thoroughly at helping our new news entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs understand what we are talking about.

I was on a panel Friday with veteran social entrepreneur John Plunkett, hosted by Thom Clark, President of the Community Media Workshop, discussing the low-profit limited liability company (L3C) and its potential for media. It was the first in-depth conversation about L3C operations I have participated in here in Chicago. And deep indeed did Plunkett and Clark take us. Maybe —for this group at least —just a tad too deep into the operational and budget linkages of Plunkett’s new, first ever L3C.

We had a great turnout and I was glad to see many colleagues there, notably Steve Rhodes of the Beachwood Reporter, Andrew Huff of Gaper’s Block and Gordon Waleck of LISC New Communities. Occupying the front row were Vivian Vahlberg from the Chicago Community Trust/Knight Foundation Community News Matters program and a few seats down sat Clark Bell, head of journalism programs for the McCormick Fundation.

I learned quite a bit. I could see Vivian — as well as a few others — very happily scribbling away. But I came away with the impression that we need to back up a few paces before we can host an informed and informative conversation of this type. Foundations, corporations, corporate foundations, and every other kind of entity in between, have very different reasons for giving money. And they have different pots of money that they give from. If we are going to ask for that money, we need to know what those pots are and what the foundation requires in return.

This is not the stuff journalist’s dreams are typically made of.

So it seems it’s time we define our terms, to see if they are terms the new news can live with.

That is one of many reasons that I volunteered to report and blog from the PRI Makers conference next week, a gathering of those foundations that make those elusive “Program-Related Investments” at the heart of the L3C model.

I’ll be Twittering as I go at hashtag #PRI10. Read along and learn with me.