Minn. Nonprofit News Site May Provide Journalistic Survival Model

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January 26, 2012; Source: Nieman Journalism Lab | The NPQ Newswire is proud to pass along the Nieman Journalism Lab’s report that MinnPost, the nonprofit news site in Minnesota, found itself in the black in 2011 for the second year in a row.While journalism in general often seems to be treated like a relic from an earlier era, some see nonprofit journalism as a possible avenue to the survival of the industry. However, generating income has been tough, so it’s encouraging to see nonprofit journalism showing signs of life. MinnPost’s surplus of $21,000 “isn’t exactly retire-to-the-Caymans money,” according to the Lab report, but it is notable nonetheless.

Of the $1.5 million MinnPost raised in 2011, one-fourth came from advertising and sponsorships, another fourth came from public media-style individual and corporate memberships, 21 percent came from foundation grants, 20 percent came from its capital campaign, and 9 percent came from money-making events such as its annual MinnRoast.

It is impressive news, given that the nonprofit site most similar to MinnPost, Voice of San Diego, raised $1.1 million but spent $1.2 million in 2011, causing it to lay off four staff people last year. The more policy-focused Texas Tribune raised much more money in 2011 (around $3.71 million) but still ran a deficit, though the Nieman Lab’s Andrew Phelps notes that the Tribune predicts it will break even or better in 2012.

Of particular interest to us is the one-fifth of MinnPost’s revenues from foundation grants. MinnPost CEO Joel Kramer told the Lab that he expects foundation money to drop to about 10 percent of revenues in 2012, though he emphasizes that that is a projection, not a goal. Kramer explained that MinnPost’s “long-term goal from the time we launched was to become steadily less dependent on foundations,” though the news site is “happy to get all the foundation support we can get.” Kramer notes, however, that foundations are typically “more excited about you if they see you as asking for seed money, startup money, [or] early-stage development money.”

MinnPost is going into its fifth year of operations, a virtual graybeard in the local/regional nonprofit news industry, moving it out of the “startup” category. Have foundations which originally trumpeted their support for nonprofit news outlets begun to lose interest and energy now that the challenge isn’t starting up, but maintaining news operations—or have foundations come to grips with the fact that their core support needs to be there year in and year out? —Rick Cohen