The news that MinnPost posted a second year in the black is important not just for MinnPost, but also for nonprofit independent news sites in general.
Significantly, MinnPost CEO Joel Kramer told Nieman Journalism Lab that he expects MinnPost’s revenue from foundations to continue to shrink. MinnPost, seen as a model by many local sites going the non-profit route, holds an important lesson for nonprofit journalists: use grants like venture capital, not as sustaining revenue. “We’re happy to get all the foundation support we can get, but our long-term goal from the time we launched was to become steadily less dependent on foundations,” Kramer told Nieman.
This bears repeating: Nonprofit isn’t a business model – it’s a tax status. If you’re considering starting a local news site, don’t expect foundation money to sustain you, assuming you can find some. Foundations are starting to treat this funding more like startup capital, and they’ll want to see your sustainable business plan.
Kramer makes another important point, something that too many local sites miss: valuing loyal local usership vs valuing big numbers. MinnPost puts a priority on counting how many users visit at least twice a month, and how many are from Minnesota. “Our advertisers and sponsors, what they’re interested in is communicating with Minnesotans. Also, our donor base overwhelmingly comes from Minnesota,” Kramer told Nieman. “So we actually believe, strategically, that a visit by a Minnesotan, a pageview from a Minnesotan, is worth far more than us than a visit or a pageview from elsewhere.”
I’ll admit I was concerned by the buzz when MinnPost first launched, and its foundation support was being held up as a replicable model for sustaining independent local journalism in the U.S. There just isn’t enough foundation money to make that happen. Fortunately, MinnPost is turning into a replicable model of diversified revenue streams, with a focus on accountability and locality.