Announcing the first cohort of news businesses for the LION-GNI Sustainability Audits and Funding program
These twenty publishers are seeking to enhance their organizational sustainability.
Every news business faces different barriers to sustainability. The LION-GNI Sustainability Audits and Funding program aims to help LION members find ways to overcome them, which is why we’re excited to announce the 20 news businesses selected to participate in the program’s first cycle.
The program 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.
“We’re thrilled to support such a diverse and compelling group of news businesses,” said Lisa Heyamoto, LION’s Director of Teaching & Learning. “Each is well-positioned for the audit’s insights-to-action approach, and we’re looking forward to digging in.”
Applications are still open for publishers interested in participating in a future cycle of the Sustainability Audit program.
Congratulations to these first 20 news businesses as they continue along their journey to organizational sustainability.
Based in: Auburn, WA
Mission: Educating, raising awareness, and empowering through the stories of Auburn.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “The Auburn Examiner will, at minimum, not grow if we maintain our current pace and habits. This is unacceptable. We will utilize data and feedback extrapolated from the audit to accomplish goals and ensure our sustainability more efficiently and successfully.” – Elizabeth Miller, Founder and Publisher
Boulder Reporting Lab
Based in: Boulder, CO
Mission: To provide the people who live, work, learn and play in and around Boulder, Colorado, with high-quality, trustworthy, local-first reporting and essential information to make sense of issues and events happening around them, navigate their lives and build community.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We’re interested in participating in the audit to help us with operational resilience and financial health. We have been publishing for about five months. We’re worried already about burnout. As a startup it is vital that we can retain the talent who helped launch us and who is best-positioned now to help us reach our goals. Regarding our financial health, we now have basic documentation, software and systems in place to manage our budget, and monitor revenue and expenses. But we believe there may be better approaches. We are currently building three revenue streams (membership/reader revenue, philanthropy and sponsorships) at the same time, with varying success. We have wondered whether we are diluting the potential impact of these efforts by focusing on all three revenue streams at once.” – Stacy Feldman, Founder and Publisher
Chatham News + Record
Based in: Siler City/Pittsboro, NC
Mission: To inform, challenge and celebrate.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We’re unique as a legacy print newspaper: we’re a 142-year-old startup. We acquired the newspaper a little over three years ago and have, in short time, become the most-awarded small weekly newspaper in North Carolina and earned national recognition for our innovation and our reporting. But locally, we’re having trouble connecting to audiences and creating sustainability. Do we keep print? Do we focus only on digital? Do we go nonprofit? And how, in a very divided market (politically, socioeconomically, etc.) do we engage with more of our potential readers? Where are our growth opportunities? These are critical questions we’re having a very hard time answering. We believe insights from the audit will help us with ‘true north’ work.” – Bill Horner III, Publisher and Editor
Based in: Providence, RI
Mission: ecoRI News is dedicated to reporting on environmental and climate-justice issues in southern New England. Through our reporting, we create a more informed public and provide individuals with the information they need to be better stewards of their environment.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We are a mature organization, but we want to take the next steps to grow our coverage (more reporters) and our audience (more readers). We have an experienced team right now that would be able to implement the findings of the sustainability audit.” – Joanna Detz, Publisher
Based in: Excelsior Springs, MO
Mission: Excelsior Citizen is a hyper-local source of information, dedicated solely to the news and events happening in and around Excelsior Springs. Our mission is to consistently and accurately report the daily news that impacts the lives of all Excelsior Springs citizens giving them the tools and knowledge to become informed, engaged citizens of our community.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We feel that participating in this program will help us understand where we’re at in this process of building a sustainable news publication for our community. It will help us better define our goals, and give us insight as to how we compare with other publications our size. We’ve enjoyed and greatly benefitted from the GNI programs we’ve participated in and are confident this program will allow us to continue to grow and become leaders in the rural news market.” – Samuel Jason Cole, Founder and Publisher
Based in: Golden, CO
Mission: Our mission is to keep Golden’s citizens informed so they can express their views before the decisions are made.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “I want GoldenToday to survive with or without me. Until it becomes more financially sustainable, it’s unlikely that anyone else would be willing to continue the work.” – Barb Warden, Publisher
Based in: Henrico, VA
Mission: Across six digital daily weekday platforms, the Henrico Citizen tells the story of Henrico County, Virginia through fair, tenacious, thorough and clear journalism that enlightens, informs and impacts Henrico County and the more than 334,000 citizens who call it home.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We are at a crossroads. The Henrico Citizen is in its 21st year but essentially started over from scratch financially when the pandemic hit. I could use help determining the best path forward, both from workflow and financial perspectives. A primary challenge of mine is determining how to best spend my own time. I am one of two full-time employees, so I split my time between establishing and overseeing long-term goals and direction, managing projects and people, editing, reporting, fulfilling office manager duties, handling finances, co-managing social media and outreach, and handling graphic work, among other responsibilities. I need better structure that maximizes my most valuable roles while establishing a sustainable path to add help in the other areas. The Citizen is leaner and more robust now than ever, with relatively few financial responsibilities, but without an effective sustainability plan, we won’t be able to maintain the level of coverage we’ve delivered for the past two years.” – Thomas N. Lappas, Founder and Publisher
Local News Matters
Based in: Berkeley, CA
Mission: Bay City News Foundation serves the San Francisco Bay Area via our free LocalNewsMatters.org website and is backed by charitable donations from contributors who care about local news, a free press, democratic values and an informed citizenry. We target geographic and topical news deserts. We collaborate with other media. We experiment with technology. We work with journalism schools to train the next generation of reporters and provide paid internships for promising new journalists.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Bay City News Foundation needs support in each of the three areas of sustainability: operational resilience, financial health, and journalistic impact. One of our issues is not being able to afford to hire the staff needed to execute on our goals in a long-term, sustainable way. Enhancing the capacity of our top leaders and adding expertise in growth areas is part of our new strategic plan. We have been able to triple our budget since our founding in 2018, but we are still struggling with the unpredictability of various revenue streams and would like to grow in the areas of capacity-building foundation grants, major donors, and corporate sponsorships. We would also like assistance in telling our story effectively and communicating our impact in a clear, concise way given our large geographic footprint.” – Katherine Ann Rowlands, Founder and Publisher
Based in: Toronto, ON
Mission: Mabuhay Canada aims to uplift, connect and celebrate Filipinos in Canada. We do this by providing news, services for newcomers, spotlighting Filipino-owned businesses and a comprehensive listing of Filipino groups and organizations.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Participating in LION’s Sustainability Audit would help my company by preemptively planning and understanding the steps I need to do to avoid burnout, to learn best practices for financial health, and to understand how I can make the most journalistic impact. As a new business, I believe having experts have a good look at my business model and give me advice would set me up for success. Receiving audits now, instead of a year from now, would be more beneficial so that I won’t fall into common pitfalls other business owners do when they don’t know what to look out for in terms of burnout and financial challenges.” – Yona Harvey, Founder
New Mexico In Depth
Based in: Rio Rancho, NM
Mission: Our mission is to produce investigative, data-rich stories with an eye on solutions that can be a catalyst for change.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Our organization is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary and can point to repeated examples of statewide and local journalistic impact. We are financially healthy, too. But we’re thinking about the next decade and realize that we must adapt to the ever-changing world if we want to be around in a generation. So we’re asking ourselves, how do we strengthen our internal processes around fundraising/audiences/donors and management so that we survive the chaos transforming the local, national and global news ecosystem (and frankly undermining democracy) so that we don’t succumb to burnout and mental unhealthiness and remain standing in 10, 20 years.” – Trip Jennings, Founder and CEO
New York Focus
Based in: New York, NY
Mission: New York Focus is a nonprofit newsroom covering state and local politics in the Empire State. Launched in October of 2020, we help make government more transparent by publishing in-depth journalism that cuts through the noise to uncover and explain how New York really works.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Since our launch in October 2020, New York Focus has become an integral part of our state’s media environment. Over the same period, we have found a viable model for funding this kind of intensive reporting and have experienced rapid growth. We are excited to undergo a Sustainability Audit to provide external review of our strategy to convert this early success into long-term sustainability and to identify additional opportunities to ensure we’re built for the long haul.” – Akash Mehta, Founder and CEO
Perfect Duluth Day
Based in: Duluth, MN
Mission: Perfect Duluth Day is dedicated to showcasing the culture of Duluth. Combining magazine-style journalism with the crowdsourcing abilities and technologies of the internet, PDD stands alone as Duluth’s Duluthiest website.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We have a lot of opportunities to hear from readers, and we’re constantly examining our product from the inside, but we’ve never had an opportunity for an organization from within our industry to not only provide feedback but to offer funds to follow through on identified opportunities. The time-investment risk seems worth it when weighed against the potential benefit.” – Paul Lundgren, CEO
Based in: Redding, CA
Mission: Shasta Scout provides innovative, trustworthy, and in-depth news services and products that empower our readers to engage more deeply and constructively in our shared community, and in the work of building and strengthening local democracy.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “As an emerging publication, our first year has been focused on strong journalistic impact and growing early revenue sources. What we’re still missing is the deep and sustainable business practices that will establish an empowering work environment, safeguard our donors’ investments and prevent founder burnout. For Shasta Scout, it’s critically important that we invest time RIGHT NOW in developing policies and practices that will lay a foundation for healthy long-term growth.” – Annelise Pierce, Editor
The Altamont Enterprise
Based in: Albany, NY
Mission: Our mission is to find the truth, report it fairly, and to provide a forum for the open exchange of ideas on issues important to our community.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Similar to the Bklnr story, we have leadership that can’t realistically take a vacation. We realize dedication can be a strength and a weakness. In the intersection between our deficiencies and our most important problems, hiring and retaining top talent (at a small newsroom) is something we could use guidance on. We also have basic challenges in reaching a wider audience, with the goal of raising more sustainable revenue to invest in more skilled reporters. High-quality, investigative journalism is always something we’ve bootstrapped, punching above our weight. How can we get to the next step, where our ambition isn’t our only fuel?“ – Marcello Iaia, Publisher
The Kansas City Defender
Based in: Kansas City, MO
Mission: We are a Black nonprofit digital startup producing news, digital tools and public services to consistently deliver important news and essential information to Black communities in the Midwest.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We are currently between the stages of “poised for growth” and “growing,” as we have a clear target audience and recently received our first major grant of $25,000. Even with limited resources at the moment we continue to enhance our editorial offerings to reach newer [audiences]. We are eager to diversify and increase our revenue streams to enhance our financial sustainability and build out our team, ultimately enabling us to scale our operations to meet the massive consumer demand for our news products. We would benefit from outside assessment regarding where our organization is on the path to sustainability and how other news organizations are navigating the rapidly changing industry conditions. We would like to work with an Analyst to know how we can further leverage our strengths, and to identify any weaknesses we have so that we can seek the right person/people to fill necessary roles for that area.” – Ryan Sorrell, Founder and Publisher
The Kerr County Lead
Based in: Kerrville, TX
Mission: A daily source of news for Kerrville, Kerr County and the Texas Hill Country.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Because I believe that the quality of journalism has been impactful, but what concerns me is that nexus region of focus between financial stability and bolstering the quality of our journalism.” – Louis Amestoy, Founder and Publisher
Based in: Ames, IA
Mission: Major American newsrooms have called themselves objective for generations. But their coverage has always been defined by homogenous teams that fail to account for race, gender, class, disability, and sexuality. The Objective is a nonprofit newsroom holding journalism accountable for past and current systemic biases in reporting and newsroom practices.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “The Objective was built by a group of volunteer journalists. While The Objective puts out a consistent newsletter and editorial product, we are currently hitting a breaking point in terms of capacity and fundraising as we attempt to solidify our organization. An external audit would help us refocus our priorities with actionable advice as we seek to sustain (and then grow) The Objective.” – Gabe Schneider, Co-Founder and Editor
The Palm Springs Post
Based in: Palm Springs, CA
Mission: We believe all Palm Springs residents deserve nonpartisan, unbiased coverage of the issues they care about. The Post aims to provide that by producing high-quality, objective local journalism that informs public decision-making, addresses the quality of life of our community’s citizens, holds our policymakers accountable, and tells our readers’ stories by listening to them and making sure they are valued and understood. In all that we do, earning the trust and respect of our audience is paramount. Our reporting will always be free to all.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Work such as tackling finances, paying tax liabilities, and bringing W2’d employees on board is all new to me and I find myself both drowning in work and unable to sleep at night. I need to stop flying by the seat of my pants and become a “real business,” but need assistance to get there.” – Mark Talkington, Founder and Editor
The Roanoke Rambler
Based in: Roanoke, VA
Mission: Our mission is to enlighten members of the community with vibrant, local journalism that exposes wrongdoings, uncovers societal ills and holds the powerful accountable – and with essays and fiction that provoke and inspire.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “We are interested in receiving help from LION’s Sustainability Audit because we are at a critical juncture in our efforts to increase and diversify revenue. While we have had initial success with subscription-based reader revenue, we have in recent weeks hit a flatline of new paying subscribers. Additionally, while we are working to fundraise a reporting position and to introduce a free newsletter to attract advertising revenue, we so far have not diversified our revenue behind paying readers. An audit will help us make and execute concrete plans to increase revenue and keep us accountable to these goals.” – Henri Gendreau, Founder and Editor
Based in: Montpelier, VT
Mission: The mission of VTDigger is to produce rigorous journalism that explains complex issues, holds the government accountable to the public, and engages Vermonters in the democratic process.
Interest in the Sustainability Audit: “Operational resilience and sustainable revenues are critical to the future of VTDigger. We continue to scale our efforts to meet audience needs locally and regionally as newspapers continue to decline. While we have been building sustainability through membership, underwriting and philanthropy, we would like to re-examine our work to ensure we are employing best practices. In order to do that, it’s important to understand what we’re missing and identify new ways to reach audiences and build revenue.” – Anne Galloway, Founder and Executive Director
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 six analysts for this cycle of the Sustainability Audits are:
Angilee Shah is the Editor-in-Chief of the nonprofit news organization Charlottesville Tomorrow, in Central Virginia and a coach for news organizations and journalism change makers around the country. She specializes in building teams and content for people and communities too often left out of media narratives. Shah spent six years as a founding editor of Global Nation, PRI’s The World’s coverage of immigration in the US, where in one year she brought 50 new contributors to the program. As a reporter and editor, her work has been read and heard around the world, including a book about everyday lives in China and a trio of investigative stories about the end of Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil war.
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.
Jan Boyd started her career as a reporter and producer. She covered Silicon Valley for five years which sparked a passion for creating new ways of telling stories and incorporating technology to reach new audiences. She’s worked with NBC, Belo (now Tegna) and Oregon Public Broadcasting, among others, on creating sustainable, scalable and award-winning digital platforms. Boyd knows how to establish a clear editorial voice and a distinctive brand in the digital space. She also knows how to make the most of limited resources to build out efficient production workflows, maximize audience engagement, and develop effective growth plans.
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.
Kim Fox is Vice President of Product Strategy at CalMatters, with responsibility for managing and improving the ways Californians consume their work. She was previously at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where she served as Managing Editor, Audience and Innovation, and as Product Director during a period of tremendous change. She has held editorial and product roles at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, CBS and Bloomberg, been part of several startups, and early in her career was a producer at Second City in Toronto. Kim recently earned two degrees from the Fox School of Business at Temple University: An MBA focused on strategic management and digital transformation, and a master’s degree in innovation management and entrepreneurship. She’s also a graduate of the Online News Association’s Women’s Digital Leadership Accelerator.
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.
What our independent news experts learned from auditing 75 news businesses
Takeaways from the LION-GNI Sustainability Audits and Funding program
How to measure and market your impact ft. Angie Cirone and Anjanette Delgado
A LION conversation about telling your newsroom’s story, hosted by Outlier Media executive director Candice Fortman.
3 fundraising myths that could be holding your news business back
How measuring and marketing your impact can help you make the most of fundraising season, even as a for–profit publisher.