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August 27, 2007

Former newspaper publisher to start online news site

AP Business Writer

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Former Star Tribune publisher Joel Kramer has rounded up more than two dozen longtime Twin Cities journalists and is aiming to begin publishing a news Web site in the next couple of months, he said Monday.

Kramer said the site will have five editors who will oversee the work of 25 contributors, most of whom are former reporters for the Star Tribune or St. Paul Pioneer Press. They include former Star Tribune columnist Doug Grow and John Camp, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 at the St. Paul Pioneer Press before he began writing crime novels under the name John Sandford.

Many of the journalists, including Grow, took buyouts during recent cutbacks at the two newspapers.

The site, MinnPost.com, will add new stories Monday through Friday because that's when online traffic is the highest. The writing on the site will be newsy without trying to cover breaking news, Kramer said.

The site will also include commentary from community experts and readers, Kramer said, but it won't overshadow the news.

"Commentary will be there but it is definitely secondary," he said.

Kramer, 59, was editor of the Star Tribune for nine years and then publisher for six years. He stepped down in 1998 after its longtime parent, Cowles Media, was sold to The McClatchy Co. He will be editor and CEO of MinnPost.com.

Readers who once paid $200 or more per year for a newspaper generally haven't been willing to pay to get their news online.

Kramer's plan more closely resembles the public radio approach, which gives away its product for free but counts on listeners and foundations to pay most of the bills.

Kramer said he has raised $1.1 million in startup money, including $250,000 of his own. That fund also includes $250,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The contributors also included $250,000 from John and Sage Cowles; John Cowles was once chief executive of the company that owned the Star Tribune when Kramer was publisher.

Kramer said MinnPost would have a budget of about $1 million a year. He said more than half of that money would come from advertising, and the rest from reader contributions. He said the $1.1 million raised so far will help cover the site's early years before it breaks even.

Kramer said he will be seeking additional foundation donations, and that he took in three $5,000 donations from future readers before the site was announced on Monday.

But it remains to be seen how many readers will follow Kramer's lead and contribute their own money.

Fundraising consultant Melanie Coulson of Seattle said public radio stations have the advantage of existing donor lists and the ability to turn on-air time over to fundraising.

"Just putting up the link (to accept donations) isn't necessarily going to do a lot," she said.

And although Google has made it look easy to make money off Internet advertising, the reality is different. Banner ads generally fetch $5 per 1,000 visitors who see them, said AG Edwards analyst Denise Garcia.

And she pointed out that publisher Ziff-Davis Holdings Inc., which once dominated the technology magazine business, has been struggling even as its revenue has shifted online.

"If that kind of publishing company can't make a go of online-only, I question whether it's too soon for any publisher to be online only," she said.

The Star Tribune drew 953,000 unique visitors last month, according to market research firm comScore. But that's with the benefit of a print newspaper and a name that readers associate with news.

ComScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni said the key will be providing unique content that people can't get anywhere else. Even then, Fulgoni questioned whether Kramer's site could generate the kind of ad dollars he's counting on.

"He's getting into a really crowded space," he said.


On the Net:

MinnPost: http://www.MinnPost.com

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press


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