As he cuts, publisher cites success of Minnesota Independent ‘model’

Thursday, I noted the shuttering of Washington Independent, a sibling site to Minnesota Independent, adding that the local lefty site was unaffected.

Friday, former Washington Independent editor Laura McGann published a staff memo from CEO David Bennahum that gives the “Minnesota model” a vote of confidence. I should note that model equals precisely one full-time reporter; most of MnIndy’s staff was whacked a couple years ago, though local editor Paul Schmelzer and contributor Patrick Caldwell help Andy Birkey.

Bennahum charts the descent of the Independent network’s donor-based model; he raised nearly $3 million per year during the Bush administration, but that plunged to $1.9 million last year; a $1.6 million surplus dove to $400,000. As he announced D.C.’s closure, Bennahum described the company’s new strategy:

Institute “pay go” budgets: programs must be supported. When they are not, they have to be either closed or operated at the level being supported. In the case of new programs, require multi-year commitments as a precondition for operations. This is what we have successfully done in Florida, where the program has two year commitments.

Be more innovative in terms of leveraging the “network effect” to help smaller programs operate with limited budgets. We pioneered this in Minnesota, where we’ve learned to operate a robust site with one full time reporter. The site is successful thanks, in part, to the way we can syndicate content throughout the network from our sister sites. …

In the case of New Mexico, we are going to institute the Minnesota model, with the aim of working to rebuild support over time.

Although some of Minnesota Independent’s award-winning reportage went viral, the site has never had consistently big traffic or many ads. There literally wasn’t a lot of local buy-in; Bennahum was dependent on big-city, coastal donors and foundations who, it sounds like, moved on to the next big thing.

You can argue about whether the Independent’s sites are “robust,” but one reporter per state is fairly thin soup and isn’t likely to turn around fortunes in places where it gets instituted.

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 11/19/2010 - 06:29 pm.

    Andy Birkey is great, but a site with one reporter is what some people might call a blog.

  2. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 11/20/2010 - 07:05 am.

    “There is a story hanging from every tree.”I.F. Stone

    Izzy and Esther didn’t do too bad for initially being a staff of two ,hey?

    “When man bites God, write about it. When God bites man, get a second opinion.” B.J-K

    Minnesota Independant is not a blog.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/21/2010 - 01:12 pm.

    “Institute “pay go” budgets: programs must be supported. When they are not, they have to be either closed or operated at the level being supported.”

    Sounds like they’ve been reading from the Tea Party handbook of common sense budgeting…can we expect some scintillating, in-depth reportage from Andy Birkey celebrating the fact that the next Minnesota legislature will be following that exact model?

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