This is extremely sad news for those who care about making media companies more open, democratic, and responsive to the public interest. Since 1973 the non-profit law firm that grew out of the civil rights movement has helped lead countless fights against media conglomeration, for opening the public airwaves to diverse views, and for net neutrality. Under its long-time leader Andrew Jay Schwartzman, MAP has evolved into an important and respected source of information and insight for Congress, the courts, the FCC — and for the press. He tells me that the group just “ran out of money.” Many foundations that fund organizations including MAP were hit hard in the recent recession. In addition one funder, the JEHT Foundation, folded in 2009 after losing much of its endowment to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Public Knowledge CEO Gigi Sohn calls MAP “an invaluable voice for the public interest.” And Free Press CEO Craig Aaron says that Schwartzman is “a true pioneer in media reform and advocacy.” Here’s the announcement:

The Board of Directors of the Media Access Project (MAP) announces that MAP will suspend operations, effective May 1, 2012. The Board reached its decision after evaluating the difficult funding environment facing MAP and other progressive public interest groups. The MAP Board expressed its deep appreciation and gratitude to all current and former foundation and Forum funders, individual donors, and staff for their support and dedication to the cause of MAP.

Founded in 1973, MAP has been the leading public interest law firm representing clients seeking to promote the free flow of information and a diversity of voices in the electronic mass and emerging media. Its nearly forty years as a pioneer in protecting the public’s First Amendment rights to access to diverse information have had a broad-reaching, enduring impact.

Over the years, MAP won cases protecting diversity of ownership in the media. It initiated and led complex proceedings that created additional outlets such as a low power FM radio service to allow new voices to be heard. It also played a key role in fights to ensure an open Internet, to afford access to new sources of information and content, and to provide opportunities for independent media to emerge and thrive. MAP achieved victories and accomplishments in proceedings that affect almost every aspect of the Federal Communications Commission’s activities. MAP was an effective advocate in related proceedings in the courts and other departments of government, including the Executive Branch, Congress and independent agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission.

The insights MAP gained from its relationships with the groups it represented and its work with the entire public interest community made MAP into a thought leader for the entire media reform movement. These insights also allowed MAP to be an innovator of ways to promote a diversity of voices. The “MAPping Change” forums have provided a unique platform for dialog and debate by diverse interests on emerging issues.

One of MAP’s enduring achievements is the training and mentoring of a large cadre of public interest advocates. MAP alumni are founders, leaders, and providers of the expertise and savvy for multiple organizations working to promote a free and diverse marketplace of ideas and whose work will continue.

In early May, MAP will host a gathering of all the communities it has touched to celebrate MAP’s accomplishments and to help retire its small debt.