It’s a crucial time for the independent news sector.
Half of the daily newspaper circulation in the U.S. is controlled by hedge funds; every one of their “profitable” newsrooms is sending more money out of communities than is spent on reporting in those places they purport to serve. Journalists are being laid off at a record clip, and news deserts are expanding across the country.
At the same time, there’s been an explosion in independent news startups in the U.S. and Canada: at least 266 such organizations launched in the past five years, an increase of nearly 50%, representing an average of more than 50 launches per year, according to our Project Oasis research.
That same research shows while no single roadmap exists to becoming a sustainable news business, people have been starting them anyway. Non-profits. For-profits. Public benefit corporations. Large newsrooms. One- and two-person teams.
These independent news organizations, many of them our members, are making a significant impact in their communities. But they need more: more support, more resources, more funding and, crucially, more people advocating for them and helping them achieve success.
So I’m happy to report today that LION Publishers is rising to meet the moment. We serve existing and aspiring independent news entrepreneurs, and we’re adapting and growing our LION team so we can most effectively help them.
Since Anika and I started at LION in 2019, our team has launched a boot camp for aspiring news founders, a series of peer and expert-led teaching sessions, a coaching-based program for existing news entrepreneurs, a program to hire and train news revenue fellows, a playbook on how to launch a news startup and a database about the U.S. and Canadian independent news industry, and we’ve piloted a half dozen other experiments that inform how to best serve our membership and this growing independent news ecosystem. In that period of time, we’ve more than doubled our annual budget and, by the end of this month, we will have tripled our staff.
And we have even bigger plans for 2021 and beyond. That’s why we’re excited to share a few updates about our team:
- We’re promoting Lisa Heyamoto, our GNI Startups Lab senior program manager, to a new position as director of teaching and learning. In this role, Lisa will oversee all of the teaching and learning work that LION is doing for its members, including our work on the Startups Lab and Boot Camp, the Tiny News Collective and the News Revenue Fellowship. We also have an ambitious idea to launch a News Entrepreneur Academy in the coming months, and Lisa will lead that initiative. While the programs listed before this can, by design, help only a small number of participants directly, we can codify and share their learnings among the broader base of our membership — particularly the work we’ve started on mapping sustainability for the sector. We are thrilled to have her in this key role.
- We’ve hired a dynamite director of finance and operations who will be joining us later this month. This director will ensure our financial, administrative and operational systems can support our people and programming, and ultimately, LION’s sustainability and growth. We have done a lot of work in this area over the last two years, from developing our board to improving our financial health to implementing a culture of documentation. We’re committed to continuing to find the best possible people to help advance our mission.
- Finally, we’re hiring a director of membership and research. We’re looking for a senior leader who deeply understands the needs of current and aspiring independent news organizations, wants to ensure those needs are being addressed by LION’s membership offerings, and can communicate those needs to external stakeholders through research and data that ultimately helps inform our strategy for strengthening the independent news industry. The deadline to apply is June 27.
These three senior leaders will report to our deputy director, Anika Anand, who will oversee LION’s day-to-day finance, operations, membership, communications and programming work. Anika will continue to report to me; it’s my job to lead our fundraising, develop a revenue plan and lead our annual budget process.
It’s also not the last of our growth; you’ll hear more from us in the coming months as all this work continues, because we think transparency and collaboration are vital to our success.
This growth is possible thanks to the strong and expanding support of our funding partners: The Facebook Journalism Project, the Google News Initiative, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund. We’re grateful for that support because the digital news ecosystem is growing fast and deserves thoughtful and intentional support. We at LION Publishers are committed to providing it, as transparently, thoughtfully and quickly as possible.
And, of course, we’d welcome your help. If you’re a foundation or a person with enough means to make a difference in the mission we’ve outlined here, please get in touch with us. If you work for a university and you’re interested in integrating LION’s work into the classroom, or directing your students toward the independent news ecosystem, let us know. If you’re thinking about getting involved in launching your own digital news business, or you’re curious about the space, you can join our free News Entrepreneur Community on Slack. And if you’re curious to stay up to date on all the work we’re doing, you can subscribe to our newsletter.
Thanks for reading.
Executive Director, LION Publishers
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