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The Travails of Non-Profit Media

Amid a changing media landscape, one of the more promising models is the non-profit, regional web site. The marquee sites in this genre include MinnPost, Voice of San Diego and the Texas Tribune. We have yet to see a pure expression of this approach in the Rhode Island market, though public radio station WRNI is pursuing something like it.

Whatever the model's promise, though, it still operates in a difficult media environment. David Carr, media writer for the New York Times, has an interesting piece on MinnPost's struggle to stay viable and grow. From the piece:

[Founder and editor Joel] Kramer has built the online regional news site using a hybrid formula of membership, ads, sponsorships, events and foundation support.

As a result, MinnPost is viable, with the equivalent of 18 full-time employees, about 2,000 paying members (donations start at $10 and average around $50) and an estimated $300,000 in annual advertising sales after three years.

But that’s not the kind of success that’s going to shift paradigms any time soon. Mr. Kramer is quick to point out that MinnPost and other nascent online news sites face what might be called the tyranny of small numbers.

“We knew it would be hard, but the most important lesson we learned was just how hard it is,” he said. “We had expected eventually to have an operational budget of $2 million now, and right now it’s actually more like $1.1 million. We launched into a recession and we are in the same space, businesswise, as the news business.”

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