LION Publishers to expand with support from Knight Foundation

By Matt DeRienzo | Dec. 1, 2016

The Knight Foundation announced on Thursday morning a two-year, $200,000 grant to support Local Independent Online News Publishers expand its support of entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders who are launching and running local independent online news sites.

The grant will support LION Publishers’ plans to hire a full-time executive director; offer better and more inclusive training and support to local news entrepreneurs from idea stage to sustainability; and work with underserved communities to find ways to fill the gaps in local journalism and information.

Over the next two years, LION plans to strengthen and expand its peer-to-peer learning network, which helps independent journalists share best practices and develop their expertise in technology and business skills. In addition, funding will support regional workshops, online resources and the annual LION conference, which offers training on issues such as journalistic innovation, fundraising, metrics and audience engagement.

“This significant investment by the Knight Foundation highlights the importance of local indie publishers in rebuilding local news,” said Dylan Smith, editor and publisher of TucsonSentinel.com and the chairman of LION’s Board of Directors. “We’re proud of the work that LION has done as a member-driven startup nonprofit organization, but there’s a growing need for even more support and training for local news entrepreneurs. We’ll be able to take important strides forward because of this grant.”

Knight’s expanded support for LION’s work builds on two previous grants that provided funding for the annual LION Summit, online and in-person training, and underwriting for a part-time executive director.

“Nonprofit, investigative and independent news organizations play an essential role in providing credible journalism to communities,” the Knight Foundation wrote in announcing the grant. “They help to fill widening gaps in local news coverage, as cuts to legacy newsrooms continue to impact coverage of pressing community issues.”

“In its quest to nurture the future of journalism, Knight has always recognized that trustworthy information is a core community need,” said Charlotte-Anne Lucas, publisher of NOWCastSA in San Antonio, Texas, and LION’s board secretary. “This terrific vote of confidence from the foundation will strengthen my sister and brother LION publishers’ ability to respond in innovative ways to the needs in their local communities for independent journalism produced and delivered with integrity.”

"With this support from the Knight Foundation, LION Publishers will be well positioned to nurture and expand local independent journalism, particularly in communities suffering from cuts to traditional news outlets,” said Steve Beatty, publisher of The Lens in New Orleans and a LION board member. “As the recent election has highlighted, a healthy democracy depends on a credible, reliable news media. Each of our publishers takes this duty seriously, and we're eager to expand the reach and effectiveness of local independent newsrooms."

Also on Thursday, Knight announced grants of $180,000 to support the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) in launching “a digital knowledge hub to increase the success of independent public service news startups” and $75,000 to support the two annual conferences held by Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE).

“Ensuring that independent and investigative journalists have the tools, resources and spaces they need to thrive and support great local reporting is essential to building stronger, more engaged communities. These initiatives do just that, encouraging the exchange of ideas and innovation while providing solutions to the real challenges these organizations face,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight’s vice president for Journalism.

LION was founded in 2012, after a year of organizing by a grassroots group of local news publishers.

It represents nearly 140 members from 36 states and the District of Columbia. Its members include publishers of both for-profit and nonprofit local news sites. They range from sites serving a single suburban community or big city neighborhood, to those that cover rural regions, metro areas or provide statewide niche or investigative reporting.

LION hosts the largest annual gathering of local independent online news publishers in the U.S. and shares best practices and lessons from its members through a social media presence, email newsletter and webinar series.

LION facilitates year-round peer-to-peer support and mentorship among early-stage local news site publishers and publishers who are more established. LION members share practical advice and ideas with each other 24-7 in a private Facebook group serving other local independent online news entrepreneurs.