How a Former Local TV Anchor Started a Profitable Online News Site

When my friend Rick Kupchella left his job as anchor and investigative reporter at KARE-TV in Minneapolis, many of us wondered what he was thinking. He left a long and successful career on TV to start an online news aggregation site. But in the process, Kupchella found a new love for journalism. He created jobs for others and Kupchella says he is making money.

The Web site is BringMeTheNews.com. From the beginning, Kupchella insisted it would be more than an aggregation site. He wanted it to be highly filtered, so he would post only reliable material. Some of it would be original. He also cut a deal with local radio stations to provide newscasts using the information he was putting online.

BMTN also has some unusual ways of connecting with readers and advertisers. Beginning this week, readers can comment on stories, but the comments will appear on the readers’ social networking sites, such as their own Facebook pages. That way, the readers have to be responsible for their own comments. It is a sort of registration, but it also drives readership for both the commenter and BringMeTheNews.com.

Commercial sponsors don’t buy ads, as such. For example, Kupchella says, “Capella University does not use the site to say ‘click here now to sign up for a class!’ They use it to educate the public on such things as ‘the top most in-demand careers in the current economy,’ or ‘These are mistakes you don’t want to make in your next job interview.’ ”

The local Realtors organization uses its sponsorship to discuss what is happening in housing, to teach people how to detect mold or radon, or to let them know about tax credits for first-time buyers.

In a way, the Web site’s sponsorship model reminds me of the way public radio and public television treat commercials — not selling products but getting a name out there.

Within its first 12 weeks, BringMetheNews employed five full-time and four part-time workers. And, to Kupchella’s surprise, he found a new love along the way: business.

I asked Kupchella what he’s accomplished and how he’s done it.

Al Tompkins: Is BringMeTheNews basically just an aggregator? What is different?

Kupchella: At BringMeTheNews, we’re hiring journalists to help people “know where to look.” We find and bring to our site the best/most interesting news and information in the marketplace day to day from hundreds of sources.

Our links are outbound. We do not embed content from other sources.

Further, we are contextualizing the news day to day. We build the site so that content revolves around what we call “news stacks,” contextualized blocks of news content involving particular news stories from many different angles.

If the Vikings are playing the Packers, we’re as likely to showcase the viewpoint of the Green Bay news media as our own local media. We’ll look for additional sources and different perspectives from some national sources as well on the same story.

We also look for particularly well-informed blogs to bring to our space.

About 10 percent of our content is original reporting. This is very much in development at the moment; trying to find our niche. We’re among the least likely to go to a news conference (best use of aggregation/curation). We are researching a couple different models to help us fund enterprise/in-depth investigative journalism.

Another major difference … is that we deliver curated content via many platforms — online at our dot-com, via social media, through development of widgets at many nontraditional news sites, and through radio.

If nearly all of news comes from traditional newsrooms such as TV stations and newspapers, don’t you owe them something for using their material? Are you the problem — one of those online people who profits from the work of traditional newsrooms but doesn’t pay for it?

Kupchella: The only way we’re using their material is helping an audience full of people who may not otherwise find them/their content get to them directly.

Again, we don’t embed anything. We hire journalists to help people figure out where to look for the most interesting news/information of the day, and we send people directly to the sources we find.

One of the things I’ve found most fascinating about this business to date is the way different traditional news operations view us. Some have called us directly to thank us for sending high volumes of traffic their way, asking what they can do to make it easier for us.

Others have insisted they will require any users we send their way to register with their site every time a user wants to access any story. (One particular group treats all their users this way for all stories.) We generally will not refer our users to sites that put up firewalls.

You also have a deal with some radio stations. What is that about?

Kupchella: In addition to hiring journalists to serve as curators of news in the marketplace, we hire radio producers here to go through all this content to create 90-second news updates.

This is a headline-oriented service, which we drive through non-traditional news sources (adult contemporary stations, country, rock, oldies, sports, faith-based, etc.)

If we’re talking about a story we’ve found that is clearly an enterprise piece, we credit the source on the radio. If it is stuff based on many sources, we’ll write a sentence or two of our own to encapsulate it and drive traffic to our site, where we will show the public the various options they have for more information.

There have also been several examples already where we’ve provided live coverage of our own for timely news events (bomb scares at schools, the abrupt resignation of a longtime senator) to these stations.

How can there be a need for what you do in a community that has four news-producing TV stations, a nonprofit news Web site (MinnPost), two newspapers and a very strong public radio presence?

Kupchella: The sources you enumerate are precisely why there’s a need for us in this marketplace. It’s cluttered. And it’s cluttered with a lot less meaningful content than was the case a few years ago. It’s harder and harder for the public to figure out where to look.

We’re providing a clear service to our audience, streamlining the process to find meaningful news and information quickly.

We’re also helping the public come to know new reliable sources of content, including mainstreaming existing government information directly, and some blogs.

What did you have to learn to go from news anchor/reporter to online entrepreneur? What do you wish you knew more about before you left the newsroom safety net?

Kupchella: The skills I honed over the years as a journalist have been an excellent training ground for me in this space.

What did I have to learn? I’ve had to learn a lot about business. The curve is still pretty steep. I’ve learned I LOVE business. I find myself surrounded by some of the smartest, most optimistic people I’ve ever met.

My skills as a journalist over the years have been a huge help. An enterprising nature, my resistance to taking “no” for an answer, my disdain for being beat. My ability to figure out what’s missing (in terms of my own skill set; and accommodating for it by bringing others into the fold).

Maybe I wish I had a more innate business sense coming into this, but mentally I was preparing for this move for a year. I could hardly wait to jump.

How are you — if at all– making money?

Kupchella: America is full of former journalists looking to make a living in online media. They’re going down almost faster than they’re going up.

The problem: All heart; no math.

BringMeTheNews was profitable — cash flow positive — at launch.

This is due in part to assembling a great team, very forward-thinking.

And going in with a particularly astute business partner (Don Smithmier, www.GoKartLabs.com).

We’ve taken a lot of care in developing a sponsored-content ad model that is working very well. And we’re driving curated content on many platforms to increase our value.

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