MinnPost.com: philanthropy to prime journalism pump?

tn_kramer.jpgtn_kramer.jpg  Joel Kramer to bring public radio model to the web?

From Minneapolis comes news that Joel Kramer, former publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, has lined up $1.1. million ($850K from four Twin Cities’ families plus $250K in Knight Foundation support) to launch a five-day, web-based daily called MinnPost.com.

Industry zine Paid Content says the new site “will feature traditional-style front page stories as well as blog posts based on original reporting by more than 20 professional journalists from around Minnesota.” Two former Star-Tribune staffers former deputy managing editor Roger Buoen and former online managing editorCorey Anderson, will join Kramer at the core of a network of regular freelance contributors. (Buoen will be managing editor and Anderson will be web editor; see list of other staffers and contributors.)

Knight’s financial backing represents an endorsement by the nation’s leading journalism support foundation, one focused on the preservation and expansion of local coverage in real or geographic communities. (Click here to read about their Oct. 15 deadline for $5 million in local media support fund.)

In June 2007 interview on Minnesota Public Radio, Kramer hinted at his intention to launch MinnPost.com and said “It remains to be seen if we can develop a sustainable business model and an exciting journalism model” and said he would want his new site to avoid the “pontificating” that seems to predominate on the blogosphere.

“I’m more interested in informed commentary as well as hard-hitting news gathering,” Kramer said. 

Poynter Institute business commentator Rick Edmonds has written a lengthy but insightful and sympathetic essay that gets to the heart of what is importand — and worrisome — about the MinnPost.com experiment. Kramer does not propose to create what Edmonds calls a “hyperlocal chatter and photo site” but rather a place to create:

“. . . an alternative model, zigging to professionalism when so many think they can organize the collective force of volunteered content into something significant. There is room enough for both, but success for Kramer’s venture might get the pendulum swinging back to news for people who care about news . . .” 

In the Poynter essay Kramer says he hopes get about 15- to 20 percent of the one-million person Twin Cities audience, presumably the high-brow, engaged-citizen, public broadcasting segment of the audience that would appreciate professional journalism.

We’ll see. This is an imporant experiment. Kramer has freed newspaper journalism from two of its current constraints, corporate ownership and print production. We’re about to find out what happens when you remove those shackles and let motivated journalists create a public forum in a metropolis with a Scandihoovian ethic of civic involvement — and long winters that offer few leisure options between ice fishing and reading public policy white papers.

Okay well perhaps that’s a bit harsh. It isn’t fair to poke fun at people simply because their geography tends toward pale skin and mosquito and fish jokes. But then the humor isn’t accidental on my part nor will I apologize because the web is, above all, an irreverent medium much closer to bombastic and hyperbolic styles of, say, the Mark Twain era. Will print journalists, freed from the normal constraints, suffer under its own seriousness or ignite the sort of public discussion that would make the web the forum it is designed to be as opposed to merely the newspaper-killer.

So no pressure Kramer and company just because everybody’s watching.