Media analyst Ken Doctor, who has an excellent relationship with MPR boss Bill Kling, provides more details on the $100-million, 100-journalists-per-city public-media plan Kling floated during his recent retirement announcement. Kling and I chewed through some of these issues last month.
The biggest news for locals, though it’s not a big shock: The Twin Cities is one of four sites actively involved in planning these “digital-first” operations. The others are Kling’s own KPCC in Santa Monica/Los Angeles, plus New York’s WYNC and Chicago’s WBEZ.
If Kling’s plan works, MPR could get 70 additional reporters. That’s a lot — the Pioneer Press newsroom (which MPR has raided frequently) has about 90 editors, reporters and photographers.
Another thing that will perk up newsie ears: “Kling says the positions created ‘would be a very good job for people who love journalism,’ in the six figures with full benefits,” Doctor writes.
I’m not sure precisely how the math works. Kling has forecast $5 million per city per year for five years from big donors and foundations. (After that, local operations have to keep the money flowing.) Divided among 70 additional Minnesota journalists, $5 million works out to $71,428 each — and that doesn’t account for non-salary expenses.
Kling has endured constant criticism of his own high-six-figure compensation, and he might be overpaying here if it’s across the board (not that recipients are going to argue). For example, there are some editors and columnists at the Strib who get six figures, but it wouldn’t take that much to get rock-solid journalists. Pay would be higher if you’re poaching national stars.
(I can’t imagine how MPR veterans would feel about newcomers getting six figures when most of them don’t, and the operation has laid off or reassigned others. Exciting though Kling’s plan is, there are other internal problems with this kind of scalability.)
Kling is nothing if not ambitious: he tells Doctor he hopes to lock down $5 million per year per city for five years before he steps down from MPR and American Public Media Group in June.
While this shouldn’t be a primary concern of citizens, Doctor wonders how Kling will play with newspapers — and existing nonprofits such as NPR, public TV and my own plucky little shop, where MPR has refused to let MinnPost buy sponsorship/ad time. The $100 million has to come from somewhere, and Kling might sop up foundation funds others now depend on.
Again, though, for all of us who lament shrinking local operations, that might be fine if a truly kick-ass newsroom results.