MinnPost.com, an online newspaper created by the former publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune to cover happenings in the Twin Cities, launched last Thursday with a minimum of fanfare--but all eyes in the newspaper industry are on this experiment in daily online news reporting. Its digital distribution model may be the logical next step for a business beset by declining print circulation and ad revenue.
At launch, the site relies on a mix of corporate and private donations, as well as display advertising, for financial support. The founder of MinnPost.com, Joel Kramer (who left the Minneapolis Star Tribune when McClatchy bought it in 1998) said he expects the site to be financially self-sufficient in about four years.
Kramer was inspired to create the site by the recent exodus of experienced news journalists from newspapers under duress. The two biggest papers in Minnesota, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press, have laid off 100 journalists in the last year alone.
Online reporting is common in areas such as business, culture, and politics, where publishers rely on the national reach of the Internet and the general appeal of their content to attract large yet geographically dispersed audiences. By contrast, there are few if any sites producing local news--which by definition appeals mostly to people living in a particular area.
Nonetheless, Kramer says there's an untapped niche here, which will only get bigger as regional newspapers contract financially and in terms of editorial content. According to Kramer, MinnPost.com targets Minnesota professionals who otherwise read The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal for their news--not by trying to replace these behemoths, but by supplementing their scant local coverage.
Although it's largely local in focus, the site doesn't shy away from big-picture news either, especially if it has a local impact. Overall, its content categories reflect the structure of traditional newspapers, with sections devoted to Home, Region, World/Nation, Politics, Health/Science, Business, Arts, and Sports, along with more contemporary areas like Posts, Multimedia, Community Voices. Posted daily at 11 a.m., the articles are written by dozens of contributors recruited by Kramer, including a large proportion of professional journalists. According to one editor, contributors are paid about $600 for a full-length story, and $100 for posts.
But MinnPost.com takes an unusually democratic approach to content creation; whereas other newspapers have tentatively embraced features like reader comments and other kinds of user-generated content, MinnPost.com actively seeks to recruit civilians as paid contributors --including competitors and open skeptics. After a satirical sister site, MinnToast.com (offering "a thoughtfully buttered approach to Minnesota news") launched almost simultaneously with MinnPost.com, a link to the satirical site appeared with a note--apparently in earnest--reading: "Would the person who wrote this satire step forward, so we can offer him or her a position as a poster, at our usual rate?"
Finally, it's worth noting that MinnPost.com is in fact a real newspaper, if readers want it to be--each edition also appears in printable PDF format, with both color and black-and-white versions.