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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

MinnPost seeks “micro-sponsors” for blog at $10 and $25 a pop

Readers may never pay for news online, but perhaps they’ll micro-sponsor it.

MinnPost, the non-profit news startup in Minneapolis, has found modest success asking readers to “micro-sponsor” the site’s most popular blog with donation’s of $10 and $25 a pop. Since the appeal began a week ago, 127 people have donated a total of $2,575, which will be doubled by a matching gift from The Harnisch Foundation.

Those figures won’t bowl anyone over, but they could point toward a long-term fundraising model for non-profit news organizations that generally depend on large grants from foundations. Joel Kramer, editor and publisher of MinnPost, told me that he’s trying to reduce the 18-month-old site’s reliance on foundation support by growing revenue from readers and advertisers.

MinnPost has never turned down a donation for being too small but always asked for at least $50 from its 1,300 members. With this new fundraising drive, Kramer hopes to reach readers who may have balked at higher levels of giving. “This micro-sponsorship was partly to test a lower price point,” he said in an interview yesterday.

The appeal is focused on reporter David Brauer’s BrauBlog, which features a mix of local media news and Minnesota politics. Readers who give $10 become LowBrau micro-sponsors, while $25 is HighBrau. The Harnisch Foundation is matching up to $10,000 raised within three months.

Kramer said he chose BrauBlog for the fundraising drive because Brauer has a “dedicated, steady audience” — about 1,000 readers for an average post. However, Brauer, in the name of objectivity, requested that he not be told the names of his micro-sponsors. “Something about Caesar’s wife,” Kramer explained in a post introducing the effort last Tuesday.

Micro-sponsorship could prove to be an important test of the “1,000 true fans” concept floated by Wired’s Kevin Kelly last year: Can an enterprise be sustained on the backs of its most passionate supporters?

Kramer told me he’s also considering “micro-funding a beat” at MinnPost if the results from BrauBlog are encouraging. But the model may never be more effective or efficient than traditional fundraising focused on memberships and large donations. “The thing I keep reminding people is that it’s all experimental,” Kramer said, “and we’re going to try whatever seems promising.”

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  • David Brauer

    Zachary – thanks for the write-up. A couple of other datapoints. Overall, the blog’s readership is 5,000-10,000 a weekday. Obviously, many folks read more than one post a day, so uniques are probably a bit north of 1,000.

    I haven’t made a direct pitch myself, though I might do so in the future.

    Also, some folks are determined to let me know they’re sponsors – including some I cover – so it’s not an impenetrable wall. Trying to avoid disclosure is an experiment for this writer, too.

  • Josh Young

    I don’t think “1,000 true fans” are terribly likely to be anonymous, unfortunately. The rigmarole about Caeser’s wife strikes me as reductio as absurdum. Simple transparency should suffice, even if it doesn’t let some people with obnoxious bosses to help out. That people like recognition shouldn’t be a problem when the amounts are so small.

  • David Brauer

    Josh – plenty of local feedback agrees with you. And I might too, though rumination continues.

    My concern is, what if, say, a p.r. firm or media company throws a bunch of microsponsors my way? Even with transparency, that could hurt my credibility in reader’s eyes. As you note, they’d probably brag about it anyway, and being an info omnivore by vocation and avocation, I’d probably find out. So perhaps my policy is a distinction without a difference.

    We don’t allow media firms to display advertise on the blog. Maybe we should forbid their employees or contractors from doing so? But then I’d lose some sincere sponsors among those badly needed 1,000.

  • Josh Young

    I agree, David, that if a PR firm throws dozens and dozens of sponsors your way, you might have a problem. But I encourage you to cross that bridge when you get to it. I doubt you will, and considering very remote possible worlds doesn’t make the best kind of argument anyhow. “What if that woman is actually a man?” makes for great history, but I think you should consider waving away the comparison between yourself and Caesar specifically and royalty generally.

    Meantime, if the PR firm pushes only a handful of sponsors you way, thank them all happily and carry on with your good reporting, confident that reasonable citizens should and will let it pass the smell test.

  • Karl Pearson-Cater

    Josh – One idea we’re kicking around that you might like is to create a BrauMeetUp event for all the HighBraus and LowBraus to get together and geek out about BrauBlog subjects.

    But to maintain anonymity, David Brauer would be banned from attending.

  • Josh Young

    Also, Karl, you wouldn’t want any PR infiltrators who might try to slip David a suitcase full of payola cash!

  • http://www.minnpost/braublog David Brauer

    Josh – just trying to make it scalable!

    Karl – geez, give an earnest co-worker a break!

  • Joel Kramer

    I’m feeling guilty that I told Zachary that Braublog posts typically get 1,000 views. I just checked and found 16 items in the past month that got more than 2,000 — sometimes a lot more. Which means there are plenty of potential micro-sponsors who haven’t hit the donate button yet!

  • Chuck Olsen

    I borrowed/stole this idea for my show “Eskimo Witch” at Unlike MinnPost, I’m a one-man operation wearing both the publisher hat and the content-creator hat. The show is not exactly a journalistic enterprise, though, so I don’t see any problem openly asking for money and thanking everyone who contributes… including Junior Eskimo Witch microsponor, David Brauer. :-)

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