During an afternoon Q&A session at Temple last week, MinnPost CEO and Editor Joel Kramer described a unique confluence of factors which have spurred the development of the regional, online, nonprofit news outlet he founded five years ago.
And Kramer was candid, without being immodest, in explaining that one big factor in MinnPost’s success is his own presence at the top of the organization. Kramer spent 15 years at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune as editor and then as publisher. Those positions left him not only with vast connections in Minnesota’s journalism community, he said, but also with close relationships in Minneapolis’s philanthropic community, of which he had become a member.
According to Kramer, MinnPost serves an educated audience of “news-intense people” who get news from many sources. He said the organization has benefited from narrowing its focus to this audience, and “not trying to be all things to all people.” He said the journalistic focus of MinnPost is local policy and politics, initially confined to Minneapolis, but now expanding in non-urban areas across the state. The content is original, free to the public, and created by paid, professional journalists.
While he touched on the editorial work of running the site, however, Kramer talked mostly about his efforts to make the MinnPost into a sustainable enterprise.
View video of Kramer’s introductory remarks:
“I have editors who work for me who are very good journalists,” Kramer said. “I’m a good journalist too, but I spend most of my time raising money. Somebody has to do that, and I’ve found that it isn’t as easy to get other people to do that.”
MinnPost is unique not only in the variables of its creation, but also in its success. For the past two years, the site has drawn a modest surplus, something precious few news organizations have been able to do in the recent past.
Kramer acknowledged that the news business simply isn’t as profitable as it was, and that he doesn’t imagine—few do—that it ever will be. But he does believe it can be sustainable, and he’s trying to slowly but surely decrease the portion of revenue—currently around 20 percent—MinnPost gets from philanthropic foundations. His goal is to reduce foundation support to 10 percent of the site’s $1.6 million budget.
He said the organization has become increasingly aggressive in its efforts to build a membership base of individual donors, a model akin to that of public television and radio. Currently, the site has more than 3 thousand individual donors, according to Kramer.
The site also sells ads, and Kramer said that most of MinnPost’s advertisers are other nonprofit organizations who want to reach the educated, engaged audience the site has attracted. Kramer said that MinnPost generally doesn’t attract retail advertisers, and that the value of each reader in terms of advertising dollars generally is hugely decreased from a decade ago.
But Kramer said that while the news business is not profitable in the way it once was, journalism still has clear “revenue potential.” And under his direction, MinnPost has been relentless in its exploration of that potential.