here for PDF format
Participant Responses to This
meeting with Joel Kramer
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, March 21, 2008
Speaker: Joel Kramer,
CEO of MinnPost, electronic newspaper in Minnesota
Johnson, chair; Chuck Clay, Bill Frenzel (by phone), Paul Gilje, Jim
Hetland (by phone), Ted Kolderie, Jim Olson (by phone), and Wayne Popham
Context of the meeting--The
Civic Caucus has held occasional meetings over the last 2 1/2 years with
persons associated with various media, exploring ways to improve the
gathering and distribution of quality public affairs information. Today's
meeting spotlights the newest addition to the arena, a four-month-old
electronic newspaper, MinnPost.
Welcome and introductions--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced Joel Kramer, editor and CEO of MinnPost,
an electronic newspaper based in Minnesota. Kramer formerly was a writer
for Science Magazine, a writer and editor at Newsday and then executive
editor of the Buffalo Courier-Express. In 1983 he became editor of the
Star Tribune and in 1992 was named publisher and president, a position he
held until 1998, when the newspaper was sold. He spent three years as a
senior fellow at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass
Communication. In 2003 he founded Growth & Justice, a Minnesota think
In 2007 Kramer founded MinnPost, a new online, non-profit newspaper
emphasizing high quality journalism.
Comments and discussion--During
Kramer's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
1. Turn to www.minnpost.com--Kramer
urged attendees to read the daily MinnPost at www.minnpost.com and to
signup for daily emails. MinnPost is holding the electronic news
equivalent of the Gridiron Dinner, when journalists and politicians are
"gently skewered", on Tuesday, April 1, at the Graves 601 Hotel in
Minneapolis. Kramer distributed a flyer about the dinner. The dinner is
serving as a fund-raiser for the non-profit MinnPost.
2. Central question in assuring
high quality journalism--What motivated Kramer to take a
non-profit approach is that the for-profit model for journalism is rapidly
deteriorating. For instance, he cited a report that the Tribune Company
(owner of the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and
others) reported a $78 million loss for the fourth quarter of 2007.
Because of journalist buyouts over the last year we now have
more than 100 fewer daily newspaper journalists in the Twin Cities area
than we had the previous year.
The Twin Cities dailies are experiencing a precipitous drop in
advertising, more so than circulation.
Advertisers are switching from the daily newspaper to the
internet. But more important, they are switching from advertising that
runs adjacent to content to advertising that is unlinked from content.
With the newspaper there was a direct connection between advertising and
the content of the newspaper. Advertisers liked good news content because
that brought people's eyes to the ads. But with the internet, there's no
necessary attachment between advertising and news. More and more of the
advertising is attached to the search engines. That's why Google is
getting so much ad revenue.
3. Aspects of MinnPost's
non-profit model--With the threat to journalism, MinnPost has
been created as a non-profit organization. It has assembled 50 writers
and seven editors, all of whom are veteran journalists, many of whom have
taken buyouts from the dailies. MinnPost is receiving start-up support
from some foundations and large donors. Its two other sources are
sponsorships (advertising) and donations from readers. MinnPost's goal
is that from 2011 and into the future it will be relying upon sponsorships
and donations from readers – in other words, it will be sustainable
without ongoing support of foundations, most of which do not like
supporting organizations indefinitely.
Serious journalism, Kramer said, is a community asset, not
just a consumer good. It's not unlike the non-profit art museum, he said,
that need contributions and can't support its expenses by admissions
There's a similarity between MinnPosts's non-profit model and
that of Minnesota Public Radio, also a non-profit, Kramer said. He also
mentioned Pro Publica, a non-profit investigative newsroom being started
by a former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal. Pro
Publica, he said, will rely more heavily on pure large scale philanthropy,
to provide investigative journalism for media that can't afford such
journalism on their own.
A key difference from Pro Publica, he said, is that MinnPost
hopes to become a break-even non-profit, relying upon
advertising-sponsorships and donations from readers.
4. Significant growth in
audience--MinnPost went online on November 8, 2007. It has
experienced significant growth in audience for its first 19 weeks. In its
most recent month MinnPost attracted 100,000 different, unique visitors to
its website, up from 64,000 the previous month. That makes MinnPost the
largest on-online news site in the Twin Cities area that isn't associated
with a print or broadcast medium. For all news sties, including those
associated with another medium, The Star Tribune site has the
largest audience, followed by MPR and the Pioneer Press., according
to rankings by Alexa.com. The web isn't their main business, as it is
According to Technorati, an organization that measures how
many web sites link to yours, MinnPost has become among the top 9,000
most-linked-to sites on the Internet.
Currently more than 3,600 persons receive daily emails from
MinnPost, drawing their attention to the major news stories in that day's
edition, Kramer said. Anyone may subscribe, free, for these emails, by
going to the website, www.minnpost.com.
5. Growth in donors has exceeded
projections—Last summer, MinnPost told the Knight Foundation, a
major supporter of start-up funds, that it hoped for 250 reader-donors by
the end of December. Instead it had 700, and has added 100 more since
then. The median gift is about $100 and the average is about $250.
6. Advertising and sponsorship
revenue is increasing--Currently, MinnPost is covering less
than 25 percent of its monthly expenses from advertising and sponsorship
revenue. Its long term goal is to raise that percentage to 50 to 70
7. Some partnerships developing
with other news outlets--MinnPost has developed a good
relationship with Minnesota Public Television. MinnPost has appeared on
public television's weekly public affairs program, Almanac, and public
television has used some of MinnPost's videos. KSTP-TV has used MinnPost
writers as news sources and has mentioned MinnPost stories on their
website. Minnesota Public Radio has declined to partner with MinnPost and
has stopped allowing MinnPost to be a paid sponsor on the radio, which is
disappointing, Kramer said.
8. Writers are independent
contractors—Most of the writers aren't employees of MinnPost;
they are free-lance independent contractors who are paid for the stories
that MinnPost uses. All writers are serious professional journalists, so
there's very little question about whether a story will be used by
MinnPost. Kramer said that many of the journalists have told him they’re
grateful for the chance to continue to work on serious, quality journalism
in an organization trying to do something positive for the field. The
writers engage in "truth-telling", that is, they are free to say what they
believe is really happening, not just to say what is on the surface. At
the same time they don't suppress points of view with which they don't
9. Vision of MinnPost--The
MinnPost vision is high quality journalism at the metro and state level,
producing true, accurate, and meaningful stories, Kramer said. If you do
good journalism, you'll be widely read and relied on.
10. "Community Voices" section
offers other commentary-- MinnPost is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt, non-profit organization and takes no positions as an
institution on issues. However, it does invite commentary from people in
the community to share their opinions, Kramer said, and actively seeks out
a wide spectrum of viewpoints and ideologies. Click on "Community Voices"
on the MinnPost home page. Community Voices might be the place for
airing issues that are covered in Civic Caucus summaries, he said.
Coverage of policy issues, not just political give-and-take--A
Civic Caucus member observed that so much of today's public affairs
coverage in traditional media takes on a tone of controversy among
personalities, not so much coverage of the policy areas themselves.
Kramer said MinnPost wants to do more on public policy, but the challenge
is to make it interesting to a broad audience. A member took note of a
speech by Paul Grogan, CEO of the Boston Foundation, who made some very
perceptive comments on education at Macalester College last month.
Unfortunately, the issues discussed in that speech never got public
attention locally, despite their relevance on how to leverage change in
education, the member said.
12. Minimizing "links" to other
news-related websites--Kramer was asked whether MinnPost links
readers to stories on other news-related websites. He said linking is
limited because the brand of MinnPost is original content, and the
business plan is to keep readers on the site, generating page views that
bring in advertising dollars, not send them to other sites.
13. Some coverage of national
and international affairs--While local news is MinnPost's main
activity, MinnPost writers do one essay a day about a national or
international issue, and some of its writers do interpretative pieces with
a local angle on national and international affairs.
14. Serving the occasional
reader or the serious reader--A member related a conversation
with a journalist for one of the Twin Cities dailies in which the
journalist said the newspaper designs its news coverage for the occasional
reader, which means the newspaper isn't paying much attention to in-depth
coverage of a serious issue that the serious reader would prefer. Kramer
said MinnPost is very much committed to the 15 to 20 percent or so of
adults who want serious, in depth coverage.
15. MinnPost budget--Kramer
said the MinnPost budget now is about $1.3 million a year. He is working
60-70 hours a week, without compensation, as is his wife. Also he has
invested about $250,000 in seed money of his own. Ultimately, he hopes
to draw a salary, so that the enterprise can become truly breakeven, not
survive only because executives are working for no pay.
16. Thanks--On behalf
of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Kramer for meeting with us today.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.
Click Here to
see a biographical statement of each.