Even with revenue trending up for independent news publishers, there’s still no one-size-fits-all roadmap for building a sustainable small business in our industry.
That’s why we’re excited to offer personalized support and funding to another 25 news businesses through our LION-GNI Sustainability Audits and Funding program, which offers a comprehensive process for LION members to identify and respond constructively to roadblocks to sustainability within their organizations. The program includes a thorough assessment of each participating news business, followed by recommendations, resources and up to $6,000 of funding to help them take the next steps and enhance organizational sustainability. LION intends to complete 100 audits by the end of 2022; this new cohort brings our total to 75 for the year.
Ryan Sorrell of the Kansas City Defender said he found the process tremendously insightful and would recommend it to any media outlet, especially those in their early stages. “In fact, I have already begun acting on some of the recommendations and in quite literally one day attracted more monthly supporters than I have any other day in the existence of our publication.” Sorrell, who was invited to speak about his experience with the audits at the 2022 Google News Initiative Community News Summit in Chicago, added: “I found this process incredibly helpful as I often don’t have the time or mental space to step back and view my organization strategically and long-term.”
Other audit participants agreed. Tom Lappas of the Henrico Citizen said that “having an outside set of eyes on my company was incredibly valuable and provided some new ideas for me to weigh and implement.”
Emily Sachar of The Red Hook Daily Catch said the Audit program is the most important tool they’ve used, by far, to reach sustainability. “Our auditor was extremely engaged, and her report, filled with actionable and specific ideas, will drive our work for at least the next 3 years.”
Applications are still open through October 10 for publishers interested in participating in the final cycle of the Sustainability Audit program in 2022. Congratulations to this latest cohort of news businesses as they continue along their journey to organizational sustainability.
Based in: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Mission: 9 Millones’ dream is that the nine million Puerto Ricans around the world have the necessary information to advocate for a healthy, prosperous, and joyous society.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “I’m excited to have someone help us analyze the numbers and get insights on how we can manage our resources to create more impactful stories. I’m interested in the audit because I believe that it will give me clarity on what I should make a priority.” – Camille Padilla Dalmau, Founder
Based in: Dallas, TX
Mission: Dedicated to providing free, hyperlocal news. Our hope: When a neighbor reads our publications, they learn something about their neighborhood, their neighbors and themselves.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We need an effective strategy to 1) build on our existing digital sales and 2) create and implement a subscriber/donor program to supplement our revenue and build reader engagement.” – Jehadu Abshiro, President & Publisher
Based in: Austin, TX
Mission: Austin Vida amplifies, informs and celebrates the Latinidad of our local community with culturally competent news that centers the voices of nuestra gente. Our journalism focuses on solutions and allows our comunidad, which is underserved and underrepresented in U.S. media, to see themselves represented in the larger story of Austin. By centering nuestras voces, we aim to not only raise awareness of our diverse experiences but offer a more accurate and holistic representation of our community. We believe our cultura should not be an afterthought. And through our stories, we strive to create a sense of belonging.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Austin Vida has been growing from its initial minimum viable product to the building stage, and we’re working hard on creating more editorial offerings in this next phase of growth. As Austin Vida moves into this next chapter, having the guidance and concrete next steps for this transition will be key to secure Austin Vida’s future.“ – Nancy Flores, Publisher & Editor
Based in: Oklahoma City, OK
Mission: Our mission is to report stories that envision a more equitable world and energize our readers to improve their communities.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Our nonprofit is at a moment of change and growth. This year, we hired our first full-time employee and are planning a rebrand and website redesign. We became interested in the audit program to help us set the groundwork for 2023 and make the most of our rebrand after it is complete. We’re particularly excited about using feedback from the audit to finetune our fundraising strategy and audience development tactics.” – Mollie Bryant, Executive Director & Editor
Based in: Washington, DC
Mission: Bolts is a digital magazine that covers the nuts and bolts of power and political change, from the local up. We report on the local elections and obscure institutions that shape public policy but are dangerously overlooked, and the grassroots movements that are targeting them. We focus on two areas where local governments play a key role: criminal justice and voting rights.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We look forward to participating in LION’s audit to identify new ways to strengthen our operations and to work on adopting the best practices that will sustain our publication over the long run.” – Daniel Nichanian, Founder & Editor-in-Chief
Broken Arrow Sentinel
Based in: Broken Arrow, OK
Mission: To bring trustworthy local news to Broken Arrow by providing a responsible space for the community to share important information and stay informed through unbiased reporting of stories and events.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “The goal of entering this program is to devise ways to ensure the Broken Arrow Sentinel is a profitable, viable media operation well into the future. Early decisions that are made can sometimes make or break a small business, so it’s best to have all the good information and advice that you can muster.” – John Dobberstein, Founder & Editor
Based in: Calgary, AB
Mission: Calgary Citizen seeks to break down the barriers between news stories and the people. By telling the story of the everyday Calgarian who could be your neighbour, we hope to give a human face and emotion to the issues and events.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We believe LION can help us achieve some of our revenue and growth goals through the audit and it will help us level up.” – Krista Sylvester, Editor
Based in: Atlanta, GA
Mission: Our mission is to equip metro Atlanta residents to tell stories about the issues their communities care about most. We help residents access information about their communities, and tell and share stories that truly reflect those communities.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Our organization is growing rapidly, and we want to ensure we are doing everything to grow sustainably. As we increase our budget and our staff, we want to adopt best practices and make sure we are doing all we can to build a stable organization.” – Mariann Martin, Operations and Development Director
City Limits News
Based in: New York, NY
Mission: City Limits uses investigative journalism through the prism of New York City to identify urban problems, examine their causes, explore solutions and equip communities to take action.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Two goals: Increase audience and increase conversion to membership/donor by leveraging the top three most read/engaged articles, particularly in housing/homelessness, a focus of editorial.” – Marjorie Martay, Executive Director
East Greenwich News
Based in: East Greenwich, RI
Mission: East Greenwich News is committed to building an informed community through thoughtful, relevant and objective reporting about the people, places and events in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We launched five years ago as a nonprofit and have been building steadily since then. Today, we have a strong board and a solid team of one full-time employee and three part-time employees, but our coverage area is limited to one town and it remains unclear if it can really sustain a community news site. Our founding editor is paid a salary that has grown each year but is still below-scale. Our operating funds are a combination of donations, sponsor advertising and grants. We are beginning to leverage larger community support with events and fundraising, and we could use some help thinking through that. We could use advice on how/if potential monetization of our existing social media platforms would benefit our long-term growth strategy.” – Elizabeth McNamara, Editor
Four Points Media / Four Points Press
Based in: Garryowen, MT
Mission: Four Points Media exists to share the Indigenous experience in a way that lifts Native voices.
Based in: Harpswell, ME
Mission: Harpswell News is a non-partisan, non-profit news and information source committed to building community and enhancing the lives of local residents, businesses and organizations by providing trusted local information and covering topics of interest to Harpswell.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Improve our organizational effectiveness and learn from others who have successfully set up not-for-profit local journalism operations.” – Gregory Bestick, President
Based in: South Padre Island, TX
Mission: Island Matters’ purpose is to present South Padre Island news in a 100% fact-based and unbiased format. Our overarching vision for the City of South Padre Island is to have (1) 100% transparency in government and (2) a family-friendly environment for the Island. When one looks around the world, except for the Disney cities, every great tourist destination was first a great place to live for its residents. Island Matters supports the City of South Padre Island attracting young families and building a strong economy for the Island that is robust all 12 months of the year.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “The financial sustainability of our organization is our primary focus right now. We are interested in developing business sponsors and grant funders, as well as converting subscribers to members (donors).” – George Block, President
Based in: Montreal, QC
Mission: La Converse is a young independent francophone media based in Quebec, Canada, and led by racialized women. The team is made up of journalists carrying marginalized identities. These backgrounds shape the way we approach journalism and the culture we create. Indeed, we are committed to telling stories pertaining to marginalized communities and people who are not heard in a way that creates dialogue. We want to publish stories that inform, give ideas, offer solutions and bridge gaps. Through our empathetic human-centric approach, we work to provide our readers with transparent and fair journalism. Journalism at La Converse is at people’s service – we meet our readers where they’re at and where they’re going, offering content at their fingertips on the web and through social media.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We want to ensure our financial sustainability, we have very limited resources and little training in business operations.” – Lela Savić, Editor-in-Chief
Based in: Madison, WI
Mission: Madison Minutes creates news products that make life easier for Madison, Wisconsin residents.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We’re 1.5 years old, and we have a decent amount of capital to invest. At the same time, my co-founder and I are really exhausted! We need to figure out where and how to deploy this in a smart way to keep us going and growing.” – Sam Hoisington, Co-Founder
McKenzie River Reflections
Based in: McKenzie Bridge, OR
Mission: Since 1978, McKenzie River Reflections has been focused on serving the McKenzie River Valley’s nine unincorporated communities — for local news and information on area activities, recreation resources and history.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “McKenzie River Reflections is a 45-year-old community newspaper that celebrated that anniversary by switching from print to digital delivery. 88% of subscribers have made the transition within two months. I would like to share that process and learn what other publishers have experienced.” – Ken Engelman, Publisher
Moab Sun News
Based in: Moab, UT
Mission: Moab Sun News is committed to enriching public life for residents and visitors of Moab and the entire Colorado Plateau.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “The project of appropriately financing a small community newspaper is a pretty complex one. We’re super excited to be participating in LION’s Sustainability Audit, not only so that we can learn some new best practices but also figure out what our unique strategy is.” – Margaret McGuire, Publisher
Oviedo Community News
Based in: Orlando, FL
Mission: Oviedo Community News’ mission is to inform our readers through independent, public-service journalism in order to create a better connected community and help people feel empowered to help shape where they live. Our reporting focuses on topics our readers identified as important to them in our community survey and include local government, growth and development, traffic, education, environmental issues and local events.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Our organization is working to take the next step toward sustainability, which for us means hiring a freelance reporter so that I can focus on the business side of the organization and replacing our staff members on the board of directors so that we can get more community support and start paying ourselves. I could use another set of eyes to ensure that I am executing these steps correctly.” – Megan Stokes, Editor-in-Chief
Prison Journalism Project
Based in: Chicago, IL
Mission: The Prison Journalism Project is an independent, national non-profit initiative that trains incarcerated writers to be journalists and publishes their stories so they can shift the narrative and help shape criminal justice policy by shedding light on news, stories and lived experiences from inside the incarcerated community.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Over the next two years, PJP aims to develop a strong foundation in journalism training, a robust newsroom and solid community support for our writers while also building a sustainable organization. We want to make sure we build our organization strategically and soundly. We are grateful for the knowledge and support that will be provided as a participant in the LION-GNI Sustainability Audit.” – Teresa Tauchi, Director of Product and Marketing
San Francisco Public Press
Based in: San Francisco, CA
Mission: The San Francisco Public Press is a nonprofit, noncommercial news organization that publishes independent public-interest journalism about under-covered topics, with a focus on under-served audiences. We offer local investigative and solutions reporting online, in a quarterly print newspaper, through podcasts and on community radio station KSFP-FM. Coverage areas include environmental protection, housing affordability, public health, transportation safety, homeless services, digital privacy, immigration and elections. The mission of the San Francisco Public Press is to enrich civic life in San Francisco by delivering public-interest journalism to broad and diverse audiences through print and interactive media not supported by advertising.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: We are poised to bring our local investigative reporting to a much larger audience. This will help us connect with more people who want to support our public-interest journalism. Our nonprofit newsroom is participating in this Sustainability Audit to help us focus on the communities we serve in all aspects of our business, identify ways to operate more efficiently and receive advice about making budgeting and cashflow management decisions as the organization grows.
Based in: Santa Fe, NM
Mission: Southwest Contemporary connects people to the contemporary arts and culture of the Southwest through art news reporting, cultural criticism and our print and digital platforms.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Arts and cultural criticism is a core pillar of our editorial work, so we understand the impact constructive, critical feedback can have. As a mission-driven, independent art and culture news publication in the Southwest, we have few peer organizations and colleagues to look to for feedback and support. It will be enormously helpful to receive professional insights on what we’ve been doing and how we can get to a sustainable place without burning out. We are at a tipping point right now—having expanded geographically and digitally over the last three years, we could be on the cusp of significant growth, but it’s hard to know how to prioritize our list of strategic growth to-dos.” – Lauren Tresp, Publisher & Editor
Based in: Toronto, ON
Mission: To provide news that levels the playing field for Black, Indigenous and people of color content creators. We cover stories that help overlooked BIPOC communities in Toronto and beyond get stronger in the online creator economy and in their everyday lives.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “LION Publishers has the expertise and knows what it takes for a “sustainable” news business to thrive. Their guidance can help steer new and mature news businesses on a path toward balancing the goals of operational resilience, financial health and journalistic impact. I want the Sustainability Audit to help Spinning Forward develop strong roots so we can invest in long-term relationships and community building with our people, our readers and our stakeholders.” Flavian DeLima, Founder & Publisher
Based in: Toronto, ON
Mission: The Resolve creates community-powered independent journalism centering and celebrating Black, Indigenous and communities of colour in Canada. We reflect the real-life experiences of Black, Indigenous and people of colour communities — the highs and the lows, the challenges and the successes, the sorrows and the joys. We dive deeper, explain complex issues and look to solutions.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We started The Resolve because we wanted to build something more sustainable — financially, but also for the journalists we work with. We have faith in our ability to do journalism, but are still working to find a model that can sustainably support it.” – Matthew DiMera, Founder & Publisher
Based in: Charlotte, NC
Mission: Celebrate the good. Be honest about everything else.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “When I started a subscription-based publication four years ago, there was little to look at as examples of sustainable business models. I think I’ve found one, but could use expert advice on the details of running a news business and how to be profitable while staying true to our mission.” – Kristen Wile, Founder & Editor
Vermont Independent Media / The Commons
Based in: Brattleboro, VT
Mission: Vermont Independent Media is founded on the belief that independent journalism is critical for the functioning of democracy and is the lifeblood of community. Through the publication of The Commons, a weekly newspaper serving towns in southeastern Vermont, we strive to set a standard for fair, balanced and accurate journalism and provide an open forum for diverse voices within our community.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We are interested in participating in LION’s Sustainability Audit because after years of instability we are in a position to grow. We are eager to capitalize on our momentum and put practices and policies in place that will help us produce more of the content our readers and community value. Having the benefit of an outside, experienced third party examining our organization will give us the fresh perspective and honest assessment we need to put together a plan for continued growth.” – Kate O’Connor, Director of Operations
Sustainability Audit Analysts
These news organizations will be working with our expert analysts who will offer guidance and recommendations based on each organization’s needs and ambitions. The eight analysts for this cycle of the Sustainability Audits are:
Alec Saelens is revenue project manager at the Solutions Journalism Network. He is passionate about helping newsrooms align editorial and business objectives to serve their communities in a sustainable way. He advises newsrooms, many of which are small independent businesses, on a range of strategies for leveraging solutions journalism to generate revenue. Before coming to SJN, he worked as a researcher for the Membership Puzzle Project and coached organizations participating in the Membership in News Fund. He is a co-founder of The Bristol Cable, the UK’s pioneering local media cooperative launched in 2014, where he worked as a journalist and operations coordinator until 2018. He also worked as an analyst for NewsGuard, a company reviewing information websites on the basis of their reliability and transparency.
Alexandra Smith is the audience director at the nonprofit newsroom The 19th. Previously, she was the director of growth for the media and tech startup WhereBy.Us, where she led audience development strategy for five local newsletter brands. Before joining startup newsrooms, she led engagement strategies at local USA Today Network newspapers in Colorado and New Jersey. Alexandra has been a mentor to women and local newsroom leaders since she completed the Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media in 2019. She has also studied how to use design thinking to grow community engagement with local newsrooms during Sulzberger and Visiting Nieman fellowships.
Elaine Díaz Rodríguez is the senior manager of coaching at LION Publishers. She was most recently founder and editor-in-chief of Periodismo de Barrio, an independent investigative publication in Cuba, where she led coverage on social and environmental issues and climate change alongside doing fundraising and institutional development work. She has worked with SembraMedia, a non-profit that helps independent media in Ibero-America find and develop sustainable business models. Her work there included serving as an ambassador manager for a team of ambassadors representing the digital media ecosystem across Latin America and as a mentor for Metis, a business mentorship program for women founders of independent digital media projects in the region. Additional career highlights include seven years as a professor of digital journalism at the University of Havana and a 2014-2015 Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University.
Emily Roseman is the research director for the Institute for Nonprofit News, a network of more than 400 nonprofit news organizations. Previously, she served as research project manager for a study at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center that analyzed how newsrooms can engage, grow and monetize audiences. She has researched and written for several media related studies and projects including NYU’s Membership Puzzle Project, the GNI-INN Sponsorship Lab, the Public Media Mergers Project, Solution Journalism Network and Harvard’s Belfer Center. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Politics from Bates College.
Erica Beshears Perel has been a local reporter, journalism educator and nonprofit director. She is currently director of the UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local News, which supports local news organizations through research, education and the UNC-Knight Table Stakes newsroom initiative. Before that, she ran the nonprofit that publishes The Daily Tar Heel, an independent student newsroom at UNC.
Frances Dinkelspiel is the co-founder and former executive editor of Cityside Journalism Initiative, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside, the independent digital news site in Berkeley, California, and Oaklandside, a civic-minded news platform for Oakland. As part of her leadership role, she did extensive fundraising for the organization, helped set strategic direction, and was closely involved in audience engagement and editorial policy.
Joanne Griffith is the chief content officer for APM Studios, the podcast-production division of American Public Media. She has creative and strategic oversight of original and acquired podcasts. She is also the founder of En(title)d! Leaders, a conversation and coaching space for leaders of color in media. As part of her consulting work, Joanne supports small and independent newsrooms in leadership planning, staff development, editorial and content strategy, collaborations and partnerships for growth, and audience engagement. She was the founding managing editor of the California Newsroom, an NPR regional news hub, and was lead producer for the ESPN “30 for 30” podcast “The King of Crenshaw.” She has also worked at “Marketplace,” Southern California Public Radio and the BBC. Twitter: @globaljourno Shannan Bowen is the executive director of the NC Local News Workshop, which supports and strengthens North Carolina’s news and information ecosystem. Previously, she was a product director for McClatchy and served in several other audience, product and reporting roles at both national and local organizations. Shannan uses her background and experience in local news, product strategy and audience development to coach independent news organizations through tactics to develop their funnels, including top-of-funnel awareness, engagement and loyalty, reader revenue, and retention. Shannan is a founding member of the News Product Alliance and has a Master’s degree in Media Entrepreneurship. She lives in Wilmington, N.C.
Knight Foundation awards $2.85 million to LION Publishers
The renewal provides for hundreds more Sustainability Audits, plus online courses, coaching, peer learning and program-specific funding.
Meet the finalists for the 2022 LION Local Journalism Awards
Winners will be announced at next month’s Independent News Sustainability Summit.
Announcing the 16 news businesses selected for the 2022 GNI Startups Lab on Managing Money and Risk
These publishers will receive training, coaching and funding to support financial planning and risk management.