MinnPost, New Online Venture, Ready to Crash Twin Cities Media Scene

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By: Jennifer Saba

There is a lot of excitement surrounding the news that former Minneapolis Star Tribune Publisher Joel Kramer is launching MinnPost, an online, and he hopes, go-to place for local coverage of the Twin Cities. Considering the Star Tribune and rival St. Paul Pioneer Press – and scores of papers like them — keep hacking away at staff and coverage, it must be comforting to know if you’re a journalist in the area there is a potential outlet for more work.

The announcement heralding the coming debut of MinnPost listed 25 reporters and columnists who agreed to file posts and stories to the new site. They aren’t greenhorns. MinnPost draws upon seasoned journalists who once worked for the Star Tribune and Pi-Press. They come from the City Pages, and from Minneapolis Public Radio, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, and metros like The Hartford Courant and The Boston Globe.

MinnPost, as Kramer and his managing editor Roger Buoen told E&P, is not on a quixotic mission to unseat the Star Trib or the Pi-Press in breath of coverage, despite the impressive team line-up. They see an opportunity to give readers a handful of original stories — presumably not found in the dailies — and some eight to 10 posts regarding local issues. A Twin Cities version of Slate or Salon.

“I think it’s going to be a second-read kind of site,” explained Buoen. “We are assuming our readers know a lot already and we are going to try and appeal to readers who are intensely interested in the news.”

MinnPost plans to operate as a nonprofit, using about $1 million in funds provided mostly from the very families whose names and money are attached to traditional dailies, as well a sponsorships and advertising to keep the site up and running.

But as Mark Potts, who is otherwise gung-ho on the idea, wrote in his blog, the business strategy of MinnPost got lost in the announcement made last week. Not one person on the list of 25 is from the business side though Kramer said he is looking to hire some people to help suss out sponsors and ad revenue.

Connected to that, the excitement of the online site overshadows another detail that must be creeping into the minds of mid-career reporters everywhere: The journalists who signed up to contribute to the operation are getting Ramen-worthy payments, compared to their metro salaries. For their efforts, a contributor to MinnPost will receive about $100 a pop per post and somewhere around $500 to $600 per story.

Buoen explained most of the journalists who agreed to work for MinnPost took buyouts; they want to work for the site as a way to keep doing what they love for a bit longer. “Most of them are relatively young and still have a passion for journalism. So it was easy to recruit people. Most said they would work for free,” Buoen added.

Certainly, no one goes into this gig to make piles of money but as the media fractures into a billion little pieces, will people be able to make a decent wage?

Whenever the subject of MinnPost comes up, inevitably the Voice of San Diego, another online upstart, is mentioned. Kramer said he studied the Voice’s model (along with several other Web sites) as an inspiration for MinnPost.

The Voice, also a nonprofit with a budget of about $500,000 has been around two and half years. In its short life span, the Voice has made some impressive inroads, like publishing muckraking stories – one resulted in a mayoral aide getting the boot — and winning awards from SPJ. It’s media savvy too, striking up partnerships with other outlets like the local NBC affiliate.

Nine people, eight on the editside and one business type, staff the Voice. All of them are under 30. Co-Executive Editor Andrew Donohue admits they won’t be able to pay their reporters what investigative reporters are making at metro newspapers, but he thinks his staff is happy for the leeway in chasing big stories and grateful for the hands-on-direction.

At 29, Donohue hopes that at some point the Voice can lure more seasoned reporters with more pay something that will happen much later. “To start, though, our goal has been to search for tomorrow’s stars,” he wrote in an e-mail.

He too is concerned about the future of his chosen profession and he sees that streak of anxiety in younger reporters: “There’s another employment niche, too, for people who are rising through the ranks. When I was planning my career, I always figured this would be the age that I would make the jump to a major big city metro, but that’s not really a thought right now. First of all nobody is hiring; they’re doing the opposite.”

In Donohue eye’s, fledging news sites, are more solid than dailies: “I’d be weary of jumping from stability into instability. Just from everything I read and [hear], it sounds like people are scared.”

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