LION Summit attendees cherish practical advice for sustainable local news businesses

By Matt DeRienzo | Sep. 7, 2018

Ned Berke will co-lead a New Publishers Boot Camp at this year's LION Summit Oct. 11-13 in Chicago. (Karen Kring photo)

LION board members Glenn Burkins and Tracie Powell participate in discussion at the 2017 LION Summit. (Karen Kring photo)

Andy Boyle will provide Google News Lab training at this year's LION Summit, Oct. 11-13 in Chicago. (Karen Kring photo)

For some past attendees, the annual LION conference in Chicago has been an invaluable starting point for plans to launch their own local online news sites. For people already running a local news organization, it’s provided practical advice on the challenges of making the transition from journalist to running a business, specific ideas about revenue, journalism, technology and audience engagement to take home and try, and the moral support of socializing with other independent publishers from across the country.

Registration is open now for the 2018 LION Summit, which will be held Oct. 11-13 at Columbia College in Chicago and feature three days of presentations, workshops and discussion on sustainable business models for the local online news business.

This year’s conference, made possible with support from the Knight Foundation and other generous sponsors, will feature a day-long New Publishers Boot Camp on Thursday, Oct. 11, workshops and presentations on legal advice for publishers, advertising sales, membership programs and subscriptions, events, audience engagement, public records access and other journalism topics, and numerous case studies and ideas that worked from both nonprofit and for-profit local news organizations from across the country.

“I've attended two LION conferences and am making plans to attend my third this October. What convinced me to attend my first LION conference in 2016, not long after I joined the organization, was the diversity of the conference schedule. The programming included something for me all on sides of my business – from advertising to technology, social media and editorial,” said Matt Hennie, publisher of Project Q Atlanta. “Better still was the lesson I learned once I was there. Sessions dive deep into the details with subject matter experts, so I learn a lot and pick up new tools for my media publisher's toolbox. But also at the conference – on stage during sessions and roaming around the conference in between – are successful publishers and leaders in our niche of local news publishing. Hearing from them is motivating and they help recharge and refocus me. I can only get that from being there in person and it's an experience that keeps me coming back every year.”

Here’s what some other past attendees had to say:

David Fritze, Oklahoma Watch: “The LION Publishers Summit is one of the best conferences I’ve attended. The sessions cover a wide range of topics, but each is very targeted and designed to provide specific helpful advice and to share struggles and successes.  There are few, if any, of the long, rambling, abstract discussions that some other conferences tend to feature as they look for ways to disperse the large crowds. The LION Summit is well attended, but also compact. The presenters are first-rate and accessible – easy to catch for questions between sessions or during coffee/food breaks. Perhaps the most valuable aspect is that so many attendees are facing similar challenges on both sustainability and journalistic fronts, so there is a lot of potential to learn informally from peers, and to create a small network for sharing information throughout the year.”

Meg McGuire, Delaware Currents:  “Creating and sustaining a new website can be arduous and lonely. Becoming a member of LIONs helps ease the way. You don't have to reinvent the wheel with so many smart dedicated people leading the way. And going to the conference means you get to talk with ANY and ALL of them face to face. I've heard they're partial to beer, though they're pretty accepting of all libations!”

Howard Owens, The Batavian, New York: “Attending the Chicago conference is one of the most valuable things a newer local news publisher can do for his or her business. Over the years, the conference has evolved into one that is really focused on helping publishers grow their businesses. There are valuable insights to be gained, mostly from experience fellow publishers who have been through the startup struggles and lived to tell about it. It's also a chance to network and feel inspired, plus see what some really great vendors have to offer local indie publishers.”

Andy Hall, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism: “Great training? Check. Inspiration? Check. Food and drink included? Check. The LION Summit has become a must-go event, thanks to its leaders and members, who generously share their hard-won knowledge and network relentlessly. You will go home smarter about earning revenue, producing journalism, engaging your audience and using technology."

Leslie David, Benito Link, California: “BenitoLink started in 2012 and we have been fortunate to be able to attend the LION conference now four times. It is inspiring to meet people grappling with a lot of the same challenges we face and to hear about the different solutions other websites have come up with.

“LION is made up of a very eclectic group from all over the U.S., more grassroots than some of the other online conferences. These are the individuals who care enough to start something from scratch in their own communities and it is clear by what they share at the gathering, that they have genuine concerns for their neighbors and local businesses- people they know.

“These are not a top down, birds-eye view of communities, these are in the trenches, heart and soul news producers who are doing it because of a specific topic like health care our housing they care about or because of their connection to the place they live.

“When we can afford to send someone new to our team, they come home full of fresh ideas and a sense of the bigger picture, having met other local journalists dedicated to serving their county, small town or state capitol.

“Also...The LION group picks great topics for the workshops or short courses that are often really in-line with difficulties website managers like us are facing in our hometowns. They've been there and they have a good sense of what we need.”

Led Black, Uptown Collective, New York: “The LION Summit was an invaluable experience for me. The ability to learn, share and network with members of the extended LION family was a remarkable experience. It was also an aspirational one as I was able to hear from folks who have built platforms that are public resources, self-sustaining, while at the same time generating serious income. Simply stated, the LION Summit expanded my horizons and allowed to me to revel in the possibilities of my little hyperlocal site.”

Tasneem Raja, The Tyler Loop, Texas: “I attended my first LION conference a few months after launching The Tyler Loop, my hyperlocal digital magazine in East Texas. Up to that point, The Loop was largely a side project with a few really great audience engagement experiments under our belt, and my main focus was national magazine freelancing. But the energy, enthusiasm, skill-sharing, and success stories at LION were infectious. I went to talks about non-profit funding and reader revenue, and I gave my own talk about things we'd done to engage our own readers back home, like our beloved taco tour of Tyler. The reception I got made me realize that we were on to something real out here, and that there was an entire community of peer-experts eager to bring us into their community. A few hours into the conference, I was furiously texting my co-founder back home saying, "I think we should consider taking this thing to the next level." In the weeks after the conference, we followed up with several LION members leading similar projects across the country and remapped our business model and editorial strategy.

“Now, under a year later, I'm working on The Tyler Loop full-time and we've launched a reader revenue program that we feel really good about—and we're seeing steady growth. I honestly don't know if we would have taken this step if not for the LION conference, and I'm so glad we did!"

Questions about this year's conference? Contact LION Executive Director Matt DeRienzo at mattderienzo@lionpublishers.com.

Register for the 2018 LION Summit in Chicago

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