LION Awards

The LION Publishers Awards recognize excellence in journalism and business at local independent online news publishers. The awards are open to LION members only. Independent judges put a special emphasis on entries that rise above the ordinary, show an entrepreneurial spirit and provide a blueprint for other publishers in the field.

Applications are closed for the 2021 LION Publishers Awards. Thank you to all who submitted! Winners will be announced at the third annual LION Awards Show virtually on Oct. 26, 2021 where we’ll be celebrating the best of independent online media across the U.S. and Canada, from solopreneurs to large newsrooms. Details soon on how to register.

The LION Awards are open to LION Publishers members, including all employees or freelancers who work for member publications. Interested in joining LION Publishers? Check out our membership criteria and application.

LION held the first LION Publishers Awards during the LION Summit in Nashville in October 2019.

The second awards were celebrated virtually in October 2020, sponsored by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. The evening included a keynote panel sponsored by Google News Initiative, and composed of S. Mitra Kalita, SVP of News, Opinion and Programming at CNN Digital; Mazin Sidahmed, co-executive director of Documented; and Kate B. Maxwell, publisher and co-founder of The Mendocino Voice. You can watch a recording of the ceremony here. You can check out the winners of the 2020 awards here.

LION Awards 2021 Information

After hosting our second LION Local Journalism Awards program last year and naming 25 winners and 72 finalists across 15 categories, we heard from members that the virtual event was an uplifting and fun reprieve during an otherwise difficult year. So we’ve decided to bring it back one more time in this virtual format, before hopefully going in-person again in 2022. 

Join us for a virtual awards ceremony on October 26 as we recognize our colleagues from across the U.S. and Canada for their hard work. 

Unless otherwise noted, the winners for each award will be selected by an independent team of expert judges, and this year we’re adding six new or revamped categories:

  • Best Coverage of Protest and Movements for publications that effectively covered protests and activism in their community.
  • Best (Local) Election/Voting Coverage for publications that have served their communities with excellent election coverage.
  • Best Coronavirus Coverage for journalism about the COVID-19 pandemic, including coverage of coronavirus vaccines, that demonstrates meeting a community’s need; creative reader engagement; and journalistic impact.
  • General Excellence: Operational Resilience will be awarded to a LION member that has taken steps to implement the internal structures, workflows, and policies that enable a news business to run efficiently, inclusively, and sustainably. This could include founder/staff burnout, ability to attract and retain diverse and talented staff, having a plan and process to grow a team over time, and founder succession. We will accept nominations, including self-nominations, and the winner will be selected by a special panel of LION judges. Need more inspiration for your nomination? Read our section on operational resilience in our GNI Startups Playbook.
  • General Excellence: Revenue Growth (previously known as the Business Idea of the Year) will be awarded to a LION member that has successfully implemented revenue generating strategies. We will accept nominations, including self-nominations, and the winner will be selected by a special panel of LION judges. Need more inspiration for your nomination? Past year’s finalists included Detour Detroit for its Keep Detroit Local Initiative, Richland Source for its Source Brand Solutions digital marketing agency, VT Digger for its press release portal, and Taproot Edmonton for its curated newsletter for business.
  • Community Engagement and Service Award for projects that demonstrate sustained engagement with a publication’s audience or community.  

Returning categories include:

  • Best Solutions Project of the Year for projects that excel in solutions, evidence-based journalism.
  • Publisher of the Year (Solo, Small, Medium/Large) for publishers who provide excellent coverage of their community over a prolonged period of time. 
  • Investigative Report of the Year (Solo, Small, Medium/Large) for investigative stories or series that result in increased awareness and community impact.
  • Breaking News (Solo, Small, Medium/Large) for coverage of unplanned breaking or developing news events, weighing quality of writing and creative use of social platforms under deadline. 
  • Visual Journalism Project for compelling storytelling through photography, videography or infographics/data visualization.
  • Collaboration of the Year for creative collaborations between publications or community partners.
  • Public Service Award for a publication that has served its community with high-impact journalistic work.
  • New Publisher of the Year for an outstanding entrepreneur who launched their publication after July 20, 2020. 
  • Member of the Year: Based on nominations, the LION staff will award a member who has gone above and beyond in supporting their fellow LION members and community.

The fine print: The LION Awards are open to LION Publishers members, including employees or freelancers who work for publications run by LION Publishers members. 

Categories: To ensure we’re comparing LION member publications of roughly the same size and capacity, we’ll ask that you provide your full-time equivalent staff (FTE) as of July 20, 2020, with each awards entry:

Solopreneur: 0-1 full time employees 

Small publication: two to 5 full time employees 

Medium - Large publication: 6 or more full time employees

Time frame: The LION Awards are open to work produced between July 20, 2020 and July 20, 2021.

What does it cost? Entry fees are $25 for LION member award categories, plus transaction fees. 

What’s my deadline? Applications must be received by September 8, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time. You can apply here.

Frequently Asked Questions: 

Which categories come with a cash prize? 

  • Member of the Year: Based on nominations, the LION staff will award a member who has gone above and beyond in supporting their fellow LION members and community.
  • General Excellence: Operational Resilience will be awarded to a LION member that has taken steps to implement the internal structures, workflows and policies that enable a news business to run efficiently, inclusively and sustainably. Read more here
  • General Excellence: Revenue Growth (previously known as the Business Idea of the Year) will be awarded to a LION member that has successfully implemented revenue-generating strategies. Find out more here.

Which category should I apply for so I have the best chance at winning? 

The LION Awards compares submissions based on size of the member’s outlet. So, you’ll truly be competing with other LION members who are just like you. We ask members to include the size of their news business with each submission. If your story had an impact on your community or a project you implemented put you on the path to sustainability, you should apply! 

Does my submission for Collaboration of the Year have to be a collaborative project with another LION member? 

No, you’re welcome to submit collaborative projects done with publishers or community partners outside of LION membership. For example, the winner of the 2020 Collaboration of the Year, Chalkbeat won for its work with The Chicago Tribune on the impact of COVID-19 on schools, and its work with THE CITY reporting on flaws in the New York City Public School’s special education program. 

What type of work are you looking for? 

Judges will put a special emphasis on entries that rise above the ordinary, show an entrepreneurial spirit, and provide a blueprint for other publishers in the field.

I made a mistake and/or want to add more information to my submission. Is that possible?

Yes, it is possible via our submissions platform, Submittable, to edit your submission. We'd be happy to grant your edit request before the September 8 deadline. Here is a guide on how to request to edit your submission and then we can open the submission ahead of the deadline. No edit requests will be approved after the deadline. 

How many entries can a publication submit for the LION Awards?

The limit does not exist. We love to see multiple entries. 

We seem to be locked out of the submission portal, Submittable, for the awards. How do I get back in?

Feel free to email [email protected] to check which Submittable account you used for the LION Awards last year. That said, you don’t need to use a particular account to access the LION Awards. Anyone on a LION member team can create a free account with Submittable.  

Stay tuned for more details on the virtual awards ceremony, potential pre-events and judges! And make sure you’re an active LION member to be eligible.

Want to be a sponsor? Contact Penda Howell at [email protected].

Questions? Contact Cassie Balfour at [email protected].