Andy Birkey and Molly Priesmeyer, two of the Minnesota Independent’s six full-time staff, were let go Monday. The entire free-lance budget, which paid reporters including Karl Bremer, Jeff Severns Guntzel, David Noon, and Britt Robson, also was eliminated. That leaves Steve Perry, Paul Schmelzer, Paul Demko and Chris Steller as the remaining Minnesota Independent staff.
Minnesota staff referred inquiries to the Washington office of the Center for Independent Media site, the parent organization for the Minnesota Independent and sister news sites in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, New Mexico, and Washington. Dan Walter, the media contact in the Washington headquarters, had little information. He characterized Birkey and Priesmeyer as “good people and good reporters and good writers.”
The reason for the funding cuts was “restructuring the overall organization,” Walter said. In response to questions, he said he did not know what cuts had been made in the other five states. He did not have information on the restructuring plans, although he said he understood the intention was “to expand the business model to other states.” He had no information on what kind of expansion might be planned or what other states might be involved.
Cuts were made in other states, though the exact number of cuts in each state is not known at this time.
Walter said the president and CEO, David Bennahum, would post some kind of explanation on the Center for Independent Media site on Tuesday, November 11.
Andy Birkey had been a writer for the Minnesota Independent since its beginning in 2006. He reported extensively on LGBT issues and the religious right, as well as on Minnesota politics, the primary focus of Minnesota Independent reporting. He plans to continue writing on Eleventh Avenue South, his personal blog.
Birkey said he and Priesmeyer were told today that their contracts would terminate at the end of November, and that he felt “kind of blindsided by it.” Still, Birkey said, “I really, really enjoyed the opportunity to talk about issues I care about on a platform where people could see it. For that, I’m grateful to the Center. For a long time, it was a great experience.” He said he has “nothing but respect” for the four remaining writers at the Minnesota Independent, and considers them good friends.
Molly Priesmeyer wrote for City Pages before coming to the Minnesota Independent earlier this year. She wrote extensively on consumer affairs, real-estate and housing issues, the economy, and politics. The Daily Planet was unable to reach her for comment for this article.
According to its Web site:
The Center for Independent Media was founded on May 1, 2006, as a nonpartisan nonprofit organization. The center created the New Journalist Pilot Program to test the hypothesis that a melding of blog technology with the standards of professional journalism could produce original news and information, which in turn would contribute to diversifying public debate around issues of importance.
Minnesota and Colorado were the first two states to launch web sites. The Minnesota Independent was originally known as the Minnesota Monitor. The program expanded to include six state operations and a Washington office by the summer of 2008.
Ironically, on Monday night, the Center for Independent Media Site still had a link labeled “Learn about fellowship opportunities in Minnesota.”