Democracy Fund supports LION effort to bolster local online news sustainability

By Matt DeRienzo | Oct. 27, 2017

LION Publishers will receive a $250,000 grant from Democracy Fund to support an initiative to assist publishers of local independent online news organizations in developing sustainable business models.

The 18-month grant will assist LION in modeling business plans for advertising, native advertising and sponsored content, and email newsletters in support of local journalism at 10 independent online news organizations.

“The mission of LION Publishers is to support rebuilding local news, from the ground up. With this significant investment from the Democracy Fund, we'll establish a program that directly connects independent publishers in learning mode with mentors who have specific experience,” said Dylan Smith, chairman of LION’s Board of Directors and publisher of TucsonSentinel.com. “This project is squarely focused on improving the health of the local news ecosystem by helping independent publishers become financially sustainable via more diverse and well-honed strategies for success.”

The grant was announced today at the annual LION Summit, where more than 200 members of Local Independent Online News Publishers, industry experts and academics are meeting in Chicago for a three-day conference.

“Democracy Fund is pleased to support LION Publishers' work to make independent local news more vibrant and sustainable," said Teresa Gorman, Local News Associate at Democracy Fund, "LION is proving to be a critical organization supporting innovators and leaders who are trying to remake local news. This grant will help diverse local journalists learn how to build stronger, more nimble organizations that are ready for whatever the future of news may hold."

The new LION program will include market-specific assistance to publishers in building a sustainable model of advertising support from local businesses, and documentation of best practices around native advertising, sponsored content and email newsletters at small local news organizations.

“Many local independent online news organizations have launched with solid journalism but lacking a sufficient grounding in, or focus on, the basics of building strong support from local businesses,” said LION Executive Director Matt DeRienzo. “At the same time, what works in advertising is changing, and this support will help publishers adapt to those changes in a quest for sustainability.”

The pilot project will include extensive mentoring from experienced independent publishers, and participants will share their findings with both other LION members and the wider industry.

“This generous contribution from Democracy Fund represents an acknowledgment that local, independent publishers play a critical role in engaging and strengthening communities across the country by providing news and information that allow citizens to more fully participate in public life,” said LION board member Tracie Powell, founder of AllDigitocracy.com, which tracks the presence in media of communities of color. “As a board member of LION, I am committed to ensuring this money is used not only to increase the sustainability of independent hyperlocal news, but also to identify new and emerging publishers who serve underserved communities. This is an opportunity for independent publishers to show that we can lead the way when it comes to engaging with diverse audiences and communities by providing them with relevant, high-quality news and information, which is key to strengthening our democracy.”

“From the beginning, LION has been committed to developing the sustainability of startup news organizations,” said LION board member Kelly Gilfillan, publisher of the Home Page Media network of local online news sites outside Nashville. “Our volunteer base has worked extremely hard to develop a platform for indie publishers to be heard and share and a supportive environment in which they can thrive. Knowing Democracy Fund sees value in our work and is supporting us to help more publishers is such a boost of confidence. Our work will benefit many future publishers who will have a better guidebook that wasn’t around for those of us who were early adopters to pure digital news.”

“This is a tough business, but LION is one of the strongest, most supportive communities I have seen,” Gilfillan said.

About LION Publishers

Local Independent Online News Publishers is a national nonprofit organization that supports the publishers of local independent online news organizations through education, training, sharing of best practices, and peer-to-peer support. It has nearly 180 members who run both nonprofit and for-profit local news organizations in 41 states.

About Democracy Fund

The Democracy Fund is a bipartisan foundation established by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar to help ensure that our political system can withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people. Since 2011, Democracy Fund has invested more than $60 million in support of effective governance, modern elections, and a vibrant public square. For more, visit democracyfund.org.