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Don Shelby joins BringMeTheNews, leaves MinnPost

Former WCCO anchor will voice morning newscasts, contribute original reporting.

MinnPost photo by Bill KelleyDon Shelby

BringMeTheNews, ex-KARE 11 anchor Rick Kupchella’s web/radio aggregation news service, nabbed a big name today: former WCCO anchor Don Shelby, who had been writing a MinnPost column since his TV retirement last year.

Shelby, who turns 65 in May, will deliver the morning radiocasts on the 39 Minnesota radio stations that contract with the Minneapolis-based Bring, replacing Kupchella. He starts April 4.

Eventually, Shelby will contribute original reporting – primarily on public health, environment and energy – though he’s not sure when that will begin. He’ll also be a mentor in a shop that includes former MPR journalists Art Hughes, William Wilcoxen and several younger journalists.

Bring is an interesting beast, cutting advertising deals with a small cadre of big names like the Mayo Clinic, Optum Health and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux, then putting sponsored content amid story streams. The theory is that the content is more useful than traditional banner ads; and will get more clicks.

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The strategy – which blurs the line between news and p.r., though sponsored content is labeled — netted Bring a joint million-dollar investment from a news organization and a P.R. firm in 2010. Word is there’s a second, larger round in the works – something the Shelby announcement wouldn’t hurt.

Shelby says “under no circumstances, ever” will a Bring sponsor affect his story choice or reporting. He says Kupchella sees growth in original content that would be undermined by advertiser interference.

While he’ll initially voice Bring’s seven morning newscasts from his home studio, Shelby describes an unconventional plan called “Shelby Shares” to determine those stories he’ll eventually do. “At least in the early generation, it will be sort of a competition” between the communities Bring serves on radio, he says.  On the Bring site, people can nominate interesting stories they hope will lure Shelby to their town – “stories where coverage didn’t exist; ‘you need to come to our city and tell us about this landfill, or about this lake clean-up rule,’ or whatever you have in mind. The news editors and I will look through the entries to find good stories, ones that might be applicable to a larger audience.”

Bring promised original content after its 2009 founding, but it never really panned out. Shelby’s hire and the commitment to him obviously ups the ante considerably, though original content isn’t necessarily a cash-flow winner, as Bring’s aggregation-heavy model has so far shown. Bring’s website isn’t heavily trafficked, though the radio play complicates that analysis, and I wonder how many Shelbys Kupchella will need to move the audience needle.

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Though the site expanded into sports aggregation after its 2010 financing round, the site has not yet secured a second market that was talked about then. One obstacle is that Kupchella lacks the personal connections in other places that gives him a leg up with known talent like Shelby and KARE 11’s Eric Perkins. But we’ll see.

At WCCO and MinnPost, Shelby was known for his advocacy on climate change, and thus became a lightning rod for deniers. In his new reporting role, will he tone his beliefs down? “I think that’s largely up to Kupchella, but it’s not a good play to place me in any other position than that which I’ve already developed,” he says. “That is the brand, and that is what Kupchella wanted. You could say these are all liberal takes, but if you go over them with a fine-toothed comb, people were quoted accurately, and the facts were straight.”

Why bolt my humble shop? Although he’ll be eligible for Medicare on his 65th birthday, part of Shelby’s consideration was the offer of health care coverage, which for his family runs out this year. By returning to broadcast, he retains eligibility for a policy he had during his WCCO years. And given that Kupchella called him, I’d guess Don will have a few more bucks to throw his new $1.25 million home that demonstrates environmental technologies.

Locally, Shelby will soon be heard on K-TWIN and KFAN, the two Minneapolis stations that use Bring.