New Journalism — MinnPost Editor Previews Brave Venture

Note: Joel Kramer, the founder of MinnPost, the soon-to-be-launched internet-based daily, is trying something new and brave. We asked him to tell us a little about it, and here’s his guest post. Joel was my former boss at the Star Tribune, and a few of us from the blog have given Joel a little advice, worth every penny he paid for it. Tell us what you think about the new enterprise — and Joel invites comments at his site as well.

-Benidt

Expectations are running high for MinnPost. A lot of people tell us they’re counting on us to fill a gap, prove a point, create a model, buck the trend, save journalism, and so forth. Actually, all we’re aiming to do is publish consistently high-quality journalism – on the web, in print and eventually on other platforms. And we aim to break even financially so MinnPost can become a sustainable not-for-profit enterprise.

MinnPost’s brand will be a thoughtful approach to news, for Minnesotans who care about high-quality journalism. We will emphasize reporting and analysis by experienced professionals. We will encourage these journalists to be innovative, courageous, and engaged with the audience – to take advantage of the tools the Web offers to do quality work in new ways. But we won’t forget the traditional principles that drive great journalism – accuracy, fairness, aggressive reporting and compelling story-telling.

In an era of out-of-town newspaper owners shrinking the resources devoted to news, this is an exciting mission.

That’s why we’re attracting so many outstanding journalists. More than 30 have signed on to work for MinnPost, and if you check out our website, www.minnpost.com, you’ll see new names added. Most of them are veterans of the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press or City Pages, including – just to name a few – Pulitzer Prize winners John Camp and Chris Ison, well-known columnists Doug Grow and Dave Beal, and experienced arts writers Linda Mack and David Hawley. But we’re also attracting young talent, like Christina Capecchi, whose monthly column “Twenty Something” appears in 30 Catholic papers across the country. She will write for MinnPost about culture and technology.

And we’re attracting money. We announced in late August (with the help of Bruce Benidt and a couple of other people who hang around this blog – thank you all) with $850,000 of seed money from four families and a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation in Miami. I’m expecting to obtain initial national foundation support. But one of the keys to sustainability is annual support from members, along the lines of public radio and public television. Three weeks after our announcement, we have more than 130 members, who have contributed a combined $56,000. A good start, considering that we haven’t begun publishing yet.

Another key to sustainability will be the revenue from community sponsorships and advertising. We’ve just hired Lynn Benson, former retail advertising manager at the Star Tribune, to be director of community sponsorships, and Sally Waterman, who comes to MinnPost from the role of business manager at CarSoup, to be director of advertising.

Our press coverage has been extremely positive, but I’ve been around long enough to not count on that continuing unabated. Issues are already arising, mainly in the comment section of certain blogs, such as whether we “get the Web” or are just trying to shoehorn a newspaper into a new medium. Our answer: We’re excited about the unique capabilities of the medium and aim to take advantage of them, where we can do so consistent with our mission of high quality. Another issue is whether we’ll pay journalists enough. Our answer: Except for a few editors, MinnPost journalists will be contract contributors, and our rates will be competitive with the local free-lance market, not Star Tribune wages. And a third is whether we’ll be partisan or ideological. Our answer: MinnPost will be nonpartisan. We will run community views from a broad range of perspectives, but there will be no unsigned editorials representing the position of MinnPost itself.

Startups always involve risk, and MinnPost is no exception, and we need all the help we can get. Don’t just root for MinnPost. Go to http://www.minnpost.com and join the more than 900 people who have signed up for email progress reports, and the more than 130 who have become Founding Annual Members. Make MinnPost your home page. Write to me with your suggestions about either the journalism or the business.

We’ll be announcing the launch date soon.

— Joel Kramer