When I tell people I work for the Twin Cities Daily Planet, the most common reaction is confusion. What’s that? Is it a paper? Is it a blog? Do you get paid? Do you have an office? Especially with our arts coverage, we have a lot of people who read the Daily Planet without really knowing what it is. So I’m writing this blog entry to answer some frequently asked questions. At the end, I’ll explain why we need your help, and how you can give it.
What is the Twin Cities Daily Planet?
The Twin Cities Daily Planet is an independent online news source published by the Twin Cities Media Alliance, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 2005 to empower local communities with new media technologies. The Daily Planet, which went online in 2005 and officially launched on May 1, 2006, is the largest project of the Media Alliance—which also offers workshops, classes, and other programs to help Twin Cities residents connect with one another and with the larger global community. The Daily Planet reports on news relevant to the Twin Cities community, with a special emphasis on news relating to communities underrepresented by coverage in the mainstream media.
Is it actually daily?
Yes. We publish articles daily, for a total of dozens of original and republished articles each week. We send e-mails with the day’s news on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights; Saturday morning we send a newsletter that also features links to the highlights of our coverage that week, and which may be subscribed to separately. Arts Orbit Radar, a newsletter featuring event picks and a roundup of arts coverage, is sent on Wednesday afternoons. Click here to subscribe to any or all of these.
Do you have an office?
Yes. We rent an office in (believe it or not) the Wells Fargo branch building at Franklin and 26th in Minneapolis, right in the center of the Twin Cities metro area.
How big is your staff, and are you paid?
Currently, the Twin Cities Media Alliance has five employees, all paid on a part-time basis for varying numbers of hours. The organization’s executive director is Jeremy Iggers, and the Media Alliance also employs a development director (Suzanne Stenson O’Brien) and an operations manager (Emily Ryan). Employees dedicated specifically to the Daily Planet are editor Mary Turck and me. (The video above, from 2009, also features former staff member Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva.) My position is associate editor and arts editor, at 18.75 paid hours per week. I can’t speak for Suzanne or Emily, but I know that Jeremy, Mary, and I all volunteer many hours each week above and beyond our paid hours.
Who are your writers, and are they paid?
The Daily Planet is a project in citizen journalism. That term means different things to different people in different contexts, but in our case it means that we normally expect that our writers will be interested citizens who are not professional journalists. We are an edited news source, and we do assign and edit our original content; at the Daily Planet, part of that process is working with writers to teach them about researching and writing news articles. We do typically pay our writers, though our compensation is not intended to be competitive with that available at publications employing professional writers. Our total editorial budget each month is currently around $2,000. We typically publish upward of 100 original stories each month, so the average pay for any given story ranges from $0 (for opinion pieces and some reviews and reported articles) to $100 (for the most demanding, highest-priority reported articles). Mary and I write many stories ourselves, sometimes taking pay for those stories but most often not. We also republish several stories each day from our 100+ community media partners, who have reciprocal permission to republish any of our original stories, and publish many stories in the Free Speech Zone, a forum for unedited stories submitted by members of the community.
Where does your funding come from?
As noted in the TCMA’s annual report, the organization’s total annual budget is just over $200,000. We make some income from advertising sales and other sources of “earned” income, but most of our income—in 2009, 95% of our income—comes in the form of grants and donations from foundations and individuals.
How much traffic do you get?
According to Google Analytics, in the past 30 days we’ve had 90,368 visits and 141,013 page views.
Who are your Web hosts?
The Daily Planet is a Drupal site maintained and hosted by Advantage Labs, a Minneapolis team of Drupal developers who work with many local nonprofits. Thanks to Advantage Labs, the Daily Planet is at the cutting edge of features available on Drupal, an open-source content management system. (Other sites running on Drupal include those of the Science Museum of Minnesota and the White House.)
Have you ever had a print edition? Will you ever have a print edition?
The Daily Planet has always been exclusively online. We’ve considered various possibilities for a print edition, but haven’t yet developed an economically feasible way to put the Daily Planet regularly in print.
Are you published by the University of Minnesota?
No. If you’re asking that question, you’re almost certainly confusing us with the Minnesota Daily, the U’s student newspaper. The Minnesota Daily is one of our media partners.
What’s the difference between the Daily Planet and MinnPost?
Like the Daily Planet, MinnPost is a daily, nonprofit, local news publication. The main difference is that MinnPost generally seeks to employ professional journalists, whereas the Daily Planet is largely a citizen journalism operation. We contribute to the local media landscape in ways that are distinct but often overlapping.
So how’s it going?
It’s going very well. We’re one of the most successful citizen journalism projects in the country—by some measures, the most successful citizen journalism project in the country—and staff members are often asked to appear at local and national journalism gatherings to talk about how we’ve made this project work. In 2008 and 2009, we won back-to-back awards for Best Independent News Website from the Minnesota Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Our traffic has grown steadily since our founding, and we’re relied upon more and more every day as a crucial source of news and a tool for community connection. By almost any measure, the Daily Planet is successful and becoming more so—and we’re very proud of that.
But the future is uncertain for all of journalism—nonprofits and citizen journalism outfits very much included. The publication that was most similar to the Daily Planet, the Chi-Town Daily News, ran out of money and ceased operations last year. Our ad sales are increasing, but our earned revenue will almost certainly never meet more than a fraction of our operating expenses. Jeremy often says that a sustainable future for the Daily Planet would look like “the MPR model,” with revenue coming from many different sources. We’re optimistic, but as all nonprofits are painfully aware, in the wake of the recession, grants are harder and harder to come by. We have a demonstrated record of success, but our board chair Sheldon Mains likes to quote the foundation officer who told him, “We date, we don’t marry.” It can be harder to find significant investment to maintain reliable and established nonprofit ventures than to fuel the startup of ventures that seem new and exciting.
Jeremy, Sheldon, and everyone at the TCMA prize editorial independence, and I’ve not been asked to ask you for support. I’m just presenting you with the facts, and telling you that if you do value the Twin Cities Daily Planet and our contribution to the community, your support can make a big difference for us. You can of course make a tax-deductible donation—even a small donation shows that we have one more supporter willing to do something more than just read us for free—but you can also write a note to Suzanne (firstname.lastname@example.org) letting her know why you appreciate the Daily Planet. Testimonials really help us make the case to our funders for continued support. You can contribute news, opinion pieces, events, attractions, or comments—our ideal is for every reader to contribute content to the site. And of course you can simply keep reading the Daily Planet. Link to us from your own site. Tell your friends when you see something you particularly appreciate. We want your support—but we want to earn it. When we do, tell us, and tell others too.