More details on Bill Kling’s $100 million, 100-journalists-per-city public-media plan

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.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 10/13/2010 - 11:45 am.

    This is the same Bill Kling who used to have MPR editors slice and dice the NPR feed so Bill could insert more of his local content into NPR’s news hours, alleviating the need for any kind of local news shows.

    Mr. Brauer, you were wise to do the math. I’ll believe Kling is paying real reporters six figures when MPR manages to produce a local news show that’s not two guys talking about theater once a week, or Gary Eichten complaining about his taxes every weekday.

  2. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 10/13/2010 - 12:27 pm.


    Aren’t the NPR feeds (hourly news, and Morning Edition / ATC) designed to be broken up by local content? I thought that’s the point.

  3. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 10/13/2010 - 05:07 pm.

    Back in the ’90s MPR would actually take the entire news feed, pick and choose, edit to shorten as they saw fit, and then would run their local news.

    NOT the way NPR liked them to do it, and I believe NPR changed the rules and feed to stop MPR from doing this.

  4. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 10/14/2010 - 12:30 pm.

    It sounds like they have a good system now, with precise segments and plans for when local stations can do their own thing.

    I never realized how much local content we have on MPR (ATC and Morning Edition) until I started traveling for work. In other major cities, the local NPR shop will run the national program straight through except for maybe a little hourly news. Even the bumpers and breaks are much more professionally done with MPR.

  5. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 10/16/2010 - 01:52 pm.

    The fact that public radio stinks in other places doesn’t excuse MPR for its sins.

    Polished editing is no substitute for actual news coverage. Aside from the legislature and political races, how often does MPR break stories not originating with a press release? Please name some stories in which MPR took the lead in going after a local business, leading citizen or institution engaged in wrongdoing?

    And — my one and only real question — what is Bill Kling’s total compensation for all his MPR and related income? Until MPR goes 100% transparent with their money, what assurance do Minnesotans have that this grand new investigative reporting roll out will not serve hidden agendas?

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