LION Publishers names Matt DeRienzo as first full-time executive director

'I'm passionate about LION's mission'

By Dylan Smith | Feb. 27, 2017

Local Independent Online News Publishers, a national organization dedicated to supporting local journalism entrepreneurs, has named Matt DeRienzo as its first full-time executive director.

The hire, made possible by a grant from the Knight Foundation, will enable LION Publishers to expand training and mentorship of local publishers and idea-stage local news businesses across the country.

"Hiring Matt is a banner headline for LION," said Dylan Smith, the chairman of LION's Board of Directors and the editor and publisher of TucsonSentinel.com. "As a mostly volunteer-based organization, we've been able to accomplish a great deal on behalf of local independent news publishers since our 2012 founding. With Matt DeRienzo now pushing us ahead on a full-time basis, we'll have the capacity to support even more publishers who are creating the change needed to rebuild local news."

DeRienzo, a veteran reporter, editor, publisher and media executive, has assisted LION in a part-time role over the past two years.

"I'm passionate about LION's mission and thrilled to be able to work full-time helping entrepreneurs launch sites that fill gaps in local journalism, and assist existing publishers reach sustainability and grow their operations," DeRienzo said.

Prior to his work with LION, DeRienzo was editor of the New Haven Register and sister publications in Connecticut, and Northeast regional editor for Digital First Media. During his tenure as publisher, The Register Citizen in Connecticut was recognized with the Associated Press Media Editors' Innovator of the Year Award for launching a newsroom café and opening its journalism and work space to the community. During his tenure as editor, the New Haven Register was recognized with APME's and the American Society of Newspaper Editors' Robert G. McGruder Award for Leadership in Newsroom Diversity.

DeRienzo has also taught journalism at Quinnipiac University and the University of New Haven and worked as an editor for Hearst Media Connecticut. He writes a monthly column for Editor & Publisher magazine, which named him to its 25 Under 35 list of leaders in the newspaper industry in 2011.

"Matt's work for LION over the past two years has been critical for the success of our in-person seminars and conferences, as well as coordinating the deep and important peer-to-peer engagement we see among our members," Smith said. "We'll see more of that, along with projects that will foster the founding of even more truly independent local journalism outlets."

"From the very first day he began working with LION, Matt's applied his deep understanding of the local news business on behalf of our members. He knows the challenges that every publisher and editor faces, and has been dedicated to sharing practical solutions," Smith said.

DeRienzo said he will prioritize building on the organization's work to share best practices among independent publishers, as well as building connections with potential startup news outlets in under-served communities around the country.

"We're excited about how this will improve LION's ability, first and foremost, to connect local news entrepreneurs with indie publishers who've found a formula that works, with timely advice, and with ideas that they can immediately put to use," DeRienzo said. "We anticipate that having the capacity to share even more of this road map for the local online news business will encourage more people to step up and address their own communities' journalism needs."

"Matt is always actively listening and helping to lead the critical national conversation about the future of independent journalism. He consistently offers innovative ways for us to move forward as an organization," said Traven Rice, publisher of The Lo-Down (New York City) and a member of LION's Board. "In the past two years, I have come to admire his dedication to engagement within our growing community of local publishers. He clearly respects the diversity and unique viewpoints our members bring to the online publishing world. I’m eager to see LION continue to flourish under his leadership."

Noting that DeRienzo has "done an outstanding job as interim director," Charlotte-Anne Lucas, LION's Board Secretary, said, "I'm delighted that Matt will be our Executive Director."

"He shares LION's passion and vision for the future of local journalism, which is the foundation of democracy. With Matt's help, this organization will grow and thrive," said Lucas, a founding member of LION and the managing director of NowCastSA in San Antonio.

"Matt's long been a leading force for innovation in local newsrooms," said LION member Jim Brady, who launched Billy Penn in Philadelphia and The Incline in Pittsburgh. "He's pushed for more transparency from journalists, an aggressive embrace of digital journalism and pushed for stronger communication and collaboration between newsrooms. Leading LION will give him the chance to continue expanding those concepts to the many of us trying to figure out the new models for local news. I'm excited to get a chance to work with him again."

Jay Senter, publisher of the Shawnee Mission Post in Kansas, said that hiring a full-time executive director is a big step for LION and its members.

"LION Publishers has been a vital resource for us as we've grown our community news site, helping keep us plugged in to what's working and what's not among our peer publications," Senter said. "We've been thrilled with the high-value information Matt has been able to deliver to us as members since he started as interim director. His move into the position full-time is an important step for LION as an organization — and for the publishers blazing trails in their communities that LION serves."

LION Publishers has more than 140 publisher members representing local independent online news organizations in 37 states and Canada.

Founded in 2012, LION Publishers is led by a volunteer Board of Directors, all of whom are themselves the CEOs of local independent news outlets. LION's membership includes nonprofit and for-profit news organizations, and approximately 50 percent of the membership are female publishers. Sites run by LION members offer public-affairs journalism, civic coverage and investigative reporting on communities ranging from urban neighborhoods to rural towns, from major metros and coastal suburbs to Midwestern states.

Along with a number of workshops and seminars, both virtual and in-person, throughout the year, LION will again hold its annual national conference in late September in Chicago.

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