Update: American Independent CEO David Bennahum confirmed Minnesota Independent’s closure 45 minutes after this was published. No word on anything involving Media Matters. Sites in Michigan and New Mexico will also be closed.
Minnesota Independent editor/reporter Jon Collins says he has been laid off and that the parent organization American Independent News Network will close the local and other state sites.
“American Independent executives laid me off in a call this afternoon,” Collins confirms. “They said they’re closing Minnesota and some the other Independent sites around the country because of a merger with Media Matters. I don’t really know many details of the hows or whys.”
Media Matters spokeswoman Jess Levin was surprised by the news. “If that’s true, it’s news to me,” she says.
The local site, one of Minnesota’s first online-only news organizations, has nabbed some of the state’s biggest journalism awards, including the Premack for coverage of civic affairs. However, in recent years, MnIndy has cut staff, from roughly a half-dozen regulars down to two, Collins and Andy Birkey.
In July, local pastor Bradlee Dean announced a lawsuit against Minnesota Independent, Birkey and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow for defamation after the MnIndy ran a story headlined “GOP-linked punk rock ministry says executing gays is ‘moral.’ “
American Independent execs have called the suit (which also cites harm to Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign) “completely without merit.” Still, last week, MnIndy was running on-site ads seeking contributions to a legal defense fund.
Birkey referred questions to Hanaa Rifaey, American Independent’s publisher. Asked to confirm the closure, Rifaey said only, “We’d be happy to take questions tomorrow. Today is not the best day.”
Collins says he was told Minnesota was being shut down because it lacked a dedicated stream of funding. “We were always the top-performing site in the network,” he adds.
American Independent also lists sites in Iowa, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, Texas and Washington.