Those agonizing over the future of local news may take heart at the success of MinnPost.com, the online news site founded by former Minneapolis Star Tribune publisher Joel Kramer, which turned two on Sunday. The nonprofit site held a birthday bash for its members yesterday and about 175 people turned up, Kramer said. Attendees munched on cake, participated in a local news trivia contest, and received a copy of the second annual Best of MinnPost, a forty-page tabloid featuring some of the staff’s best work from its second year. MinnPost printed 10,000 copies of the ink-on-paper commemorative edition, distributing most of them at Dunn Bros Coffee shops.

With MinnPost securely past the startup phase, Kramer is now focusing on securing sustainable revenue streams for the site, which bills itself as offering “a thoughtful approach to news.” Kramer sees potential in attracting members, “news-intense people who care about Minnesota.” They are willing to pay for quality content, he said.

CJR Encore Fellow Jill Drew recently exchanged e-mails with Kramer regarding the site’s two-year milestone.

Jill Drew: What are the two stories published so far of which you are most proud?

Joel Kramer: On [the] investigative front: http://www.minnpost.com/stories/2008/11/17/4549/twin_cities-area_schools_more_segregated_than_ever. [On the] political analysis front, there are so many that I can’t really pick one, but here’s a very recent example I like a lot.

JD: What two MinnPost features are most popular with readers?

JK:: This is clearly our most popular. Focuses primarily (but not exclusively) on Minnesota media, both the journalism and the business. Combines great reporting, analysis and commentary. Second-most is this roundup (with attitude) of what’s in the local news outlets today.

JD: What are the two biggest lessons you’ve learned as CEO and editor of MinnPost?

JK: 1. Create compelling content, and you’ll build a dedicated, even passionate, audience.

2. If you’re going to pay for the journalism as we do (rather than focus on aggregation and free content), you need to develop numerous revenue streams to make this work.

3. Unique monthly visitors are a very poor measure of how a local site is doing. It’s repeat visitors and visits, not passersby, that matter.

JD: What are your two biggest worries about the future of MinnPost?

JK: 1. That we won’t be able to grow our advertising, sponsorship, and membership revenues as fast as we need to, to sustain the spending level that we need to serve our growing audience.

2. See number one.

JD: What two pieces of advice do you have for those hoping to set up their own online news operations?

JK: 1. If you’re planning spend real money on the journalism, raise enough $$ before you start to cover a couple of years of operations.

2. Find your voice—be distinctive.

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Jill Drew is a 2009-2010 Encore Fellow at CJR. She was an associate editor at The Washington Post until August 2009. For nine of her fourteen years at the newspaper, she was assistant managing editor for financial news.