At a time when revenue-challenged news organizations are shrinking their staffs and their coverage, a radio-enhanced news network is launching in the Twin Cities, and its backers believe that the operation will be profitable from the start -- thanks to key corporate sponsors and multimedia availability.
The organization, which is the brainchild of former KARE Channel 11 television anchor Rick Kupchella, on Monday will begin broadcasting Minnesota-centered news on three Clear Channel radio stations.
Kupchella will be the principal voice of the broadcasts, with help from former co-anchor Amy Hochert. He has a staff of three reporters who will gather the news, almost all of it local, from traditional and nontraditional sources, including blogs.
"It's aggregation. We want to help the public find the best journalism in Minnesota. There'll be about 10 percent original reporting," Kupchella said.
He's off to a good start. Kupchella's Internet news vehicle, BringMeTheNews.com, went live this week with the news that former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman has Bell's palsy.
But there remains a wait-and-see element in the journalistic community about this venture.
"We don't know if he is really filling a niche," said Nora Paul, director of the Institute for New Media Studies at the University of Minnesota journalism school. "There's a million podcast news feeds that could be out there. But he [Kupchella] has a good name brand. It'll be interesting to see."
The production is underwritten by Minneapolis-based Capella University, an online school with an enrollment of 30,000, and the Optum Health division of UnitedHealth Group.
The content will be linked to websites for the radio stations -- Cities 97 (97.1 FM), KOOL 108 (107.9 FM) and KFAN (1130 AM) -- and Kupchella's BringMeTheNews.com.
The news operation also includes the creative talents and business acumen of former Capella Vice President Don Smithmier, founder of Rumble, an agency that provides music services to the advertising industry. Rumble also has a subsidiary called GoKart Labs, which is a Web-design business that created BringMeTheNews.com.
"The goal was to keep expenses sufficiently low and sponsorships sufficiently high so this can be profitable from the start," Smithmier said. "We have a cross platform here with a radio tie that doesn't exist with other online news ventures."
Mike Crusham, Clear Channel's president and market manager for the broadcaster's seven Twin Cities stations, said the news organization gives his stations a unique dose of local news delivered by a very identifiable broadcaster that has long ties to the market.
"We like his delivery. It's conversational. And he's credible. The fit felt comfortable," Crusham said.
Indeed, Crusham acknowledged, time slots around the news broadcasts might be very salable to advertisers.
"With this economy, we're looking at things we never looked at before" he said.
The news production will be broadcast Mondays through Fridays during the morning drive cycle for Cities 97, the morning and afternoon drive cycles on KOOL 108 and from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. on KFAN online.
Sponsors will be given opportunities to deliver messages on the BringMeTheNews website, but those will be branded as messages from the sponsor and kept separate from the news content, said Jason Van de Loo, Capella's vice president for marketing. For the story about Coleman, for example, Optum offered a link to its website for more information about Bell's palsy.
"Our primary objective is to build Capella's brand first in the Twin Cities. We also see the potential for this model to go nationally," Van de Loo said. "This is creating innovation in local news and innovation is part of Capella's DNA.
BringMeTheNews.com is a reinventing of sorts for Kupchella, a well-known KARE weekend anchor who left the station last spring because of a contract dispute. "We agreed to disagree," he said of his decision to leave.
In addition to his BringMeTheNews site, Kupchella also has formed a joint venture called i.e. network, through which he hopes to produce public service documentaries and public awareness campaigns. Kupchella has two equity partners -- public affairs consultant and former Republican strategist Tom Mason and veteran marketing expert Greg Heinemann, who is managing partner of Minneapolis-based Denali Marketing.
The for-profit company is working on a project for Target Corp. to help explain how its employees can use electronic health records to manage their health-care needs and expenses.
"This is more than just a Target issue. We're coming to the point of no return in health care. We need to get employees more engaged," Kupchella said. "This is not public relations," he said of the joint venture. "It's about public purposes and community enterprise."
David Phelps • 612-673-7269