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 26 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; with this cohort, 45 are underway or have been completed.
“Participants have told us that these audits are insightful, relevant and actionable,” said Lisa Heyamoto, LION’s Director of Teaching & Learning. “We’re delighted to support this group of news businesses as they work toward sustainability.”
Applications are still open for publishers interested in participating in a future cycle of the Sustainability Audit program. (Twenty businesses participated in the program’s first cycle this spring.)
Congratulations to this latest cohort of news businesses as they continue along their journey to organizational sustainability.
Based in: Austin, TX
Mission: To strengthen our shared information space and democracy with you.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Our organization has been operational since 2013 and has built a strong reputation and base. However, we just shifted our revenue model, specifically we removed our paywall and paid subscription revenue, in order to better serve and impact the community. We have a strong product but are also working against the clock to make this new model work. This audit will help us identify the most impactful areas to invest our time and energy and ultimately create a pathway to long-term sustainability.” – Joel Gross, CEO and Executive Director
Based in: Hollister, CA
Mission: BenitoLink connects San Benito County residents through local news and information, encouraging public dialogue to foster an engaged community.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We can measure journalistic impact after our Election Forums, counting the number of live participants, viewers on social media and YouTube, and surveys. Beyond this and Google Analytics, we could add ways to measure how well we’re doing vis-a-vis our mission. An audit would help us dig into this aspect of our work.” – Leslie David, CEO and Executive Director.
Bucket List Community Cafe
Based in: Denver, CO
Mission: Bucket List Community Café has a unique niche at the intersection of journalism and community. We believe community journalism can be inspired and supported by the community it serves. We are a Denver hub for information, inspiration and interaction. There are no barriers to access. We have sponsors rather than advertising, memberships, subscriptions and paywalls. We cover news, issues, culture, events, food, fun and more. We are friendly and positive and lean towards social justice. We support community journalism and collaborate with non-profits and small businesses. We are hyperlocal and strive to represent the diverse voices from different neighborhoods of Denver. We build community by telling our stories. We believe that it is important to engage young journalists and communicators, and mentor them on their journey. As journalists we stood on the shoulders of others, and now we are the shoulders for the next generation of journalists. We believe it is important to pay forward and give back. We believe this can be sustainable and replicated.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Right now, we are making the push to be sustainable and would like fresh eyes with specific strategies to help us continue to grow. We are doing a great job producing original content and we now have three community sponsors. We have hit a chord with our brand of building community by telling our stories and are working hard to engage with the community we serve. We believe hyperlocal journalism can be supported by the community and that it is not necessary to have paywalls, memberships, subscriptions and advertising, but we could use advice on how we can make this a viable business that can survive and be replicated.” – Vicky Collins, CEO and Executive Director
Front Runner New Jersey
Based in: Atlantic City, NJ
Mission: Front Runner New Jersey is a news and information website that covers leadership and culture and the African American and Latino communities. Our mission is to uncover and highlight stories that are going unreported or under-reported in these communities.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Front Runner New Jersey is passionate about covering the Black and Latino communities in New Jersey. As our mission expands, the need to sustain ourselves and do this work full time becomes more urgent. Sustainability will allow us to take our mission to the next level.” – Clyde Hughes, Founder
Based in: Gettysburg, PA
Mission: Our mission is to bring free, trustworthy local news to all members of the Adams County PA community.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “I’m struggling every day to bring in enough funds to keep my newsroom going. I believe I am on the path to sustainably but I am not sure. I need help in understanding how to fundraise and budget. I think the audit will be helpful to me.” – Charles Stangor, Founder
Based in: Seattle, WA
Mission: InvestigateWest is a nonprofit investigative journalism newsroom located in Seattle. We focus on critical issues that impact our communities throughout the Pacific Northwest and Cascadia, with a special focus on environment, government and corporate accountability, and public health. Our mission is to engage Pacific Northwest residents in social issues by providing compelling, change-making investigative and explanatory journalism. Our vision is a society of informed residents empowered to exercise their rights and work within their communities to make the world a more just and equitable place.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Last year, the organization went through a wholesale leadership change, with both a founder and executive director leaving. Now is a good time to evaluate the organization and the direction under me, the new executive director.” – Jacob Fries, CEO and Executive Director
LebTown and Lebanon County Weather
Based in: Lebanon, PA
Mission: We’re here to help make Lebanon a better place.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Without LION, LebTown wouldn’t have been a fraction as successful as it has been. From an audience perspective, we are doing great, and found ourselves as the “paper of record” for our community of ~150K county residents much quicker than I expected. The Sustainability Audit comes at a perfect time as I have already formed working groups consisting of community members to help us tackle these challenges. We would greatly appreciate the third-party perspective and expert guidance LION has to offer.” – Davis Shaver, Founder
Based in: Lexington, MA
Mission: To increase understanding and participation in Lexington through local, community journalism.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We are a year old, a startup non-profit, trying desperately to get to sustainability.” – Nicholas Mele, Founder and Publisher
Based in: Cincinnati, OH
Mission: MedicateOH is dedicated to supplying Ohioans with educational and useful news and information to make thoughtful medical decisions involving their holistic health.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “My organization is in a unique niche poised for growth, but I need help with advertising tools.” – Gabrielle Visca, Founder
Based in: San Francisco, CA
Mission: We promise to: Offer original, transparent reporting that has impact and digs deep. Admit and correct our mistakes. Experiment on how best to make civic issues meaningful.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “I would very much like help with setting up best practices on donors and accounting. We have a system in place, but I believe it could be stronger and am anxious to see that happen.” – Lydia Chavez, Founder, CEO and Executive Director
MIWISCONSIN MEDIA INC.
Based in: Madison, WI
Mission: To encourage and support increased civic engagement by members of underserved populations by producing and distributing news, training and current events information (“content”) in the Spanish language. The purpose of the content is to provide underserved populations with the knowledge necessary to engage in in-depth analysis and become advocates for good government, human rights, community, education and social progress in Wisconsin. To support the development of new Hispanic & Latino journalists to support this purpose and to promote critical thinking and robust debate in the areas of government accountability, civil rights, racism, and equality among all peoples.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “The sustainability of non-profit media is the key so that communities do not lose the only voice of community journalism. We are a new media nonprofit and we need to learn from the experts.” – Alejandro Riano, CEO and Executive Director
Based in: Rochester, MI
Mission: Raise awareness about Metro Detroit’s environmental and public health challenges and potential solutions. Hold powerful entities accountable. Empower readers to take action in their communities.
Based in: Princeton, NJ
Mission: To provide original, fair and accurate reporting on local news that is important to people in the greater Princeton area community in Mercer County.
Racine County Eye LLC
Based in: Racine, WI
Mission: Racine County Eye exists to help its readers live a better life by providing community information and kick-ass journalism that sheds light on community challenges, and provides resource lists that help our community. We take a solutions-based approach to journalism. We also help our advertisers connect their messages with the right audiences. Using a multi-channel approach, we connect our businesses with those audiences.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We need help with some automation projects, specifically around editorial, marketing and sales processes. I think LION is uniquely positioned to help us do that. Specifically, I want help in developing a customer journey, using MailChimp to help segment customer roles, and developing tailored email prompts for prospects and customers. I also would like to use Zapier more to put content on the site.” – Denise Lockwood, CEO and Executive Director
Sioux Falls Simplified
Based in: Sioux Falls, SD
Mission: Feel smart about where you live. We make it simple.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “I’ve been publishing for over a year and bringing in some steady advertising revenue and a little bit of reader revenue, but I’m feeling like I’m hitting a plateau because I don’t know enough about how to grow my audience or value/price ads. I also want to ensure I’m growing to be financially stable enough to perhaps bring on additional help via freelance writers or even full- or part-time staff.” – Megan Raposa, CEO and Executive Director
South King Media
Based in: Burien, WA
Mission: Daily updated local news, events, politics, crime, arts, videos, photos and more for South King County, located south of Seattle.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We need help strategizing sustained, thoughtful growth and finding more ways to cover our seven-city network. We seek guidance and mentoring to help us achieve our goals.” – Scott Schaefer, CEO and Executive Director
Based in: Montreal, QC
Mission: By operating outside the constraints of mainstream media, and through a mixed model of written articles and multimedia content creation, The Breach’s in-depth investigative journalism is tailored to provide accessible content that fills the gaps for Canadians seeking a new place to get their news and analysis.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “My position is new at The Breach, and the outlet has faced challenges not having someone dedicated to the operations and longer term sustainability. I would like to get recommendations from professionals in the field to guide my vision going forward.” – Richenda Grazette, Chief Operating Officer
The Charlotte Ledger
Based in: Charlotte, NC
Mission: To deliver smart and essential news to Charlotte.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We are excited about getting an outside perspective on how we can improve our operations, by implementing processes or examining new ways to work smarter to accomplish our goals; also would like advice on diversifying our revenue streams to create a more well-rounded and sustainable business.” – Tony Mecia, Founder
Based in: Vancouver, BC
Mission: The Discourse provides community-powered journalism to underserved communities.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Moving from the scrappy start-up stage to a sustainable news business is The Discourse’s biggest current challenge. The LION Sustainability Audit will help focus and give structure to our efforts to build audience and revenue.” – Jacqueline Ronson, Managing Editor and Founding Reporter
Based in: Cleveland, OH
Mission: The Land is a local, nonprofit news organization that reports on Cleveland’s neighborhoods. Through in-depth solutions journalism, we aim to foster accountability, inform the community and inspire people to take action.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “The Audit that was conducted via The Land’s 2021 application for LION’s News Revenue Fellowship (for which The Land was not selected) was very useful for plotting future growth. A deeper dive with the assistance of the Indiegraf team would give The Land actionable insights and recommendations for growing readership and engagement among diverse audiences, driving revenue and growth of a membership program and attracting and retaining talent that reflects the diversity of the community.” – Lee Chilcote, Development and Marketing Manager
The Red Hook Daily Catch
Based in: Red Hook, NY
Mission: The Red Hook Daily Catch is a private, non-profit, non-partisan, online newspaper with federal 501(c)(3) status devoted to reporting on the news, personalities and activities of people, schools, merchants, farms and government in and around the Hudson Valley towns of Red Hook and Rhinebeck, N.Y. while training a new generation of young journalists.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Until I began to read LION articles, I had not thought about many of the issues I am starting to realize are crucial to our growth and success. For instance, I think about staff pipeline issues, but I don’t do anything about them. I worry about advertising, but I don’t know how to find the time to develop a media kit. I get nice letters from readers who value our journalism, but I have no quantifiable idea if we are making an impact. I want help with all of these and many other topics because our circulation growth (from 18 to 1,748 in less than a year) suggests we have hit a “need nerve” in our town and that people want us here!” – Emily Sachar, Founder
The Vallejo Sun
Based in: Vallejo, CA
Mission: The Vallejo Sun was founded by three journalists who saw a need for in-depth reporting about local government, policing and extremist movements in the region to publish news illuminating the county while allowing journalists the power to report what is important.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Our business is growing but I am concerned the pace is not fast enough where we will reach sustainability before it becomes impossible to continue. We launched with little financial backing and as journalists did not have a lot of financial security when starting.” – Scott Morris, Founder
Based in: Madison, WI
Mission: Our focus is on journalism that treats culture in Madison as the complex subject it is—not as fodder for promotional fluff. We champion things we love, but we also ask annoying questions and throw the occasional brick.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We’ve made a lot of progress on fundraising in the past few years, which means we have an opportunity to grow from a seat-of-the-pants, under-resourced organization to a more stable, if still very small, organization. We want to make the opportunity count and could really use more informed outside perspectives.” – Scott Gordon, Publisher
Verified News Network
Based in: Tulsa, OK
Mission: Doing news differently. Through innovative social news media, we are creating space for diverse news to be informative, entertaining and responsible.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Our network provides in-depth coverage of underreported issues that matter to diverse communities. We are dedicated to exploring all options of maximizing community service and impact through news as well as finding ways to support this much-needed coverage. This audit will help us prove our product-market fit and increase sustainability, allowing us to continue to fill news gaps in Oklahoma and beyond.” – Brittany Harlow, Founder and Director
Based in: Newport, RI
Mission: To provide Newport County and Rhode Island with local, independent and timely news and information.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Our business needs the most help in the financial sector; we are hopeful that this audit will help us understand what we can offer and how to properly value our opportunities. We also are at the point where we are considering who our audience is, could be, and how we can grow it. We would benefit from helping us understand what we could be doing and who we could be reaching.” – Ryan Belmore, Publisher, CEO and Executive Director
Based in: Cathlamet, WA
Mission: Wings is dedicated to fulfilling the information needs of Southwest Washington to encourage more aware and engaged communities.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Wings PNW was established in January 2022 and has gained over 1600 subscribers and 30 financial supporters (paying members). It has grown quickly with the help of Indiegraf’s audience development team, but as I continue on my own we look to stabilize the operation independently. A Sustainability Audit will be instrumental to know if my current infrastructure and strategic plan have the legs for long-term sustainability. Having a personalized roadmap will further enable me to take tangible next steps with confidence. More specifically, I am seeking to understand sustainable ways to grow my audience while also managing product development and user research. As a sole founder and publisher, gaining insight into these challenge areas from experts in the local independent news community is invaluable.” – Andrew Weiler, Founder and Publisher
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 nine analysts for this cycle of the Sustainability Audits are:
Ariel Zirulnick is passionate about doing journalism with communities and building systems that make that sustainable. Right now, she is doing that with KPCC/LAist, where she became the senior editor for community engagement in November 2021. Ariel leads global membership community calls with the Media Development Investment Fund and is an instructor for CUNY’s Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program, where she teaches concepts such as identifying your value proposition, choosing the right revenue model for your venture, and conducting audience research on a lean team. Prior to KPCC/LAist she worked at Membership Puzzle Project, a public research project that catalyzed and studied membership models in news from May 2017 through August 2021. Before joining Membership Puzzle Project, she was the director of The New Tropic, a local media startup in her hometown of Miami. She helped curious locals connect to our city through a daily newsletter, storytelling and events.
Dan Oshinsky runs Inbox Collective, a consultancy that helps news organizations and non-profits get the most out of email. He specializes in helping organizations build loyal audiences via email and then converting that audience into subscribers, members or donors. Dan works with a variety of local newsrooms, ranging from larger orgs like the Anchorage Daily News, the Daily Memphian and WBUR to smaller, digital-first outlets like Boulder Reporting Lab, Searchlight New Mexico and The Eastsider.
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.
Joe Lanane is Indiegraf’s senior manager of publisher success, supporting news operations across multiple areas: editorial, audience, operations, business and long-range planning. Prior to working at Indiegraf, Joe served as a freelancer and consultant for multiple news operations, including Local Media Association, TAPinto and Austonia. Much of Joe’s independent media experience came as executive editor for Community Impact Newspaper, leading a multi-metro news department amid rapid national growth.
Lisa Heyamoto is the Director of Teaching & Learning at LION Publishers, where she helps LION members reach sustainability by designing and overseeing the creation of training programs, coaching/consulting opportunities and practical resources that help news businesses become more operationally resilient, financially healthy and journalistically impactful. She was previously a journalism educator and program coordinator at the University of Oregon and a reporter at The Seattle Times and The Sacramento Bee.
Maria Archangelo is the chief revenue officer of Open Campus. An experienced nonprofit news leader and team builder, Maria previously was vice president of partnerships at Chalkbeat. She’s a long-time leader of high-performing revenue, fundraising, sales and membership teams. Before Chalkbeat, Maria was executive director for the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a nonprofit news organization, and previously held leadership roles at other media groups, including the Stowe Reporter/Waterbury Record and the Rutland Herald/Times Argus, both in Vermont, and at The Baltimore Sun Media Group. She’s a graduate of Temple University and lives outside Philadelphia. She recently served as an executive advisor in the Lenfest Constellation News Leadership Initiative and is a coach for the Emerging Leaders Council at the Institute for Nonprofit News.
Mary Benedicta Cipolla is the former editor-in-chief and publisher of Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education in eight locations across the U.S. plus a national team. As newsroom leader she oversaw a team of 40 people, restructured roles and workflows, launched new teams like data reporting and visuals, and was responsible for impact and audience. As publisher, she led organizational development, setting the foundation to expand into new topical verticals, including Votebeat, which launched this spring. Additionally, she has extensive experience outside news, leading editorial teams at digital content and retail startups. She loves solving problems, helping teams and individuals recognize their own possibilities, getting people comfortable with trying new approaches and tailoring communications for the right audience.
Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar is a fundraiser with a background in journalism, writing and entrepreneurship (and sales) and the current Director Of Major Gifts and Donor Engagement at CalMatters. What she did in journalism carries over well in fundraising – being bold, curious, persuasive and passionate. In her current role, Priyanka works closely with the COO to build a solid foundation for a diversified revenue operation. She co-founded and launched a hyper-local site in the aggressive Bay Area market before local became cool. She went on to roll out a series of local sites for AOL before moving to the business side of journalism. Her skill set includes, in addition to development: communications, media outreach, content marketing strategy, events and nonprofit startups.
Todd Stauffer is the association manager and digital specialist for the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, focused primarily on helping publishers as part of the GNI Ad Transformation Lab. For 20 years, he was co-owner and publisher of the Jackson Free Press in Jackson, Miss. He’s also the principal of Changemaker Media Services, formerly JFP Digital Services, a media and marketing consulting firm.
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