How to most effectively talk about your news business’s impact

LION members share tips to help your work stand out to funders and award judges.

April 3, 2024 by Kelsey Wotzka

Award winner stands at podium on stage
The Houston Defender accepts the 2023 LION Business of the Year Award in the Medium Revenue Tier at the LION Awards Ceremony & Dinner in Durham, North Carolina. Photo by Eleazar Yisrael/Inspired Storytellers

LION Publishers is now accepting submissions for the 2024 LION Sustainability Awards, which celebrate independent news publishers’ outstanding achievements across the U.S. and Canada. 

Assembling an awards submission lets you practice articulating how your organization’s work leads to mission-driven impact and strategic growth. And the benefits of this exercise can extend well beyond one awards application — you can repurpose this content for other types of opportunities, including applying for grants, soliciting reader support, and revamping your marketing materials.

We know it can be challenging to figure out how to promote your own work. So we’ve compiled a list of tips and resources from past LION Award winners, independent news leaders, industry experts, and fellow journalism-support organizations.

Here’s some advice from 2023 LION Award winners:

  • Emphasize the significance of your organization’s work in the community. Ask yourself: Why does this work matter? Who does it impact?
    • “You can use that [LION Awards] application form to really help explain and illustrate to the judges why something like this matters in your community. The judges…are coming from the news industry and have an understanding of how news is produced and all the things that go into running a news organization, but what they are not familiar with is your community and how and why you’re creating something — that’s important to them.” – Madison Karas, 2PuntosPlatform
  • Don’t underestimate the value of your achievements, even if they seem small or mundane. Ask yourself: How did this impact my journey to sustainability? What are the measurable results, impacts, and lessons?
    • “There really is a place [at the LION Awards] for all-sized outlets, and there are opportunities for huge journalistic impact, as well as community engagement. I would encourage you to apply because inevitably, at these awards, someone is stunned they won!” – Kimberly Griffin, Mississippi Free Press
  • Build on your celebratory narrative. Take this opportunity to dive deep into your accomplishments and learn more about the unexpected or unheralded victories that deserve recognition. Ask yourself: What projects am I now inspired to pursue after this reflection? What can we work on this year to further our learning and growth?
    • “Write it down and take a moment to ask yourself, ‘Why was this really important, and what came of it?’ Even if it doesn’t win, it’s a really great exercise to memorialize it and write it down. It is really helpful for your own self-image, and also for marketing or grant proposals.” – Libbie Sparadeo, VTDigger

For the LION Awards, our judges love to spotlight examples of work that push the conventions and boundaries of what independent news “should” look like. So don’t be afraid to submit creative examples of how you’re running your news business and/or serving your community. We want to hear about it, and others will, too!

“We can all learn from each other,” Kimberly said. “When you put something up on the screen at the LION Awards, it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea; why didn’t we think of that?’ And it allows you to replicate it in different communities.”

We heard similar takeaways during our “Making the Case” panel discussion at the 2023 Southeast News Sustainability Meetup.

The Food Section’s Hanna Raskin emphasized the importance of sharing your organization’s unique story in a way that decision makers can understand and rally behind. “Generalities won’t get you anywhere,” she said. “When you’re making the case for why someone should care about your organization, be specific and give details.” 

Generalities aren’t limited to how you present your work — but also what you apply for. Scalawag and Press On’s Alyzza May spoke about pursuing the funding opportunities or awards most aligned with an organization’s mission. “We show people where their values and money can be in alignment,” she said. 

Demonstration is key. When applying for funding, the group discussed developing and articulating a clear plan for how to use those dollars and — of course — tying it all back to growing your news business toward sustainability.

Interested in additional resources for demonstrating your organization’s impact?

We suggest starting here:

  • Business Awards – How to Write a Winning Entry (LinkedIn)
    • This article delves into the significance of throwing your hat in the ring for industry awards and how to craft compelling award submissions.
  • Introduction to Grant Writing for News Organizations (The Lenfest Institute)
    • This self-paced course guides you through each step of the grant writing process and includes instructional videos complemented by a Grant Writing Workbook.
  • Storytelling That Moves People (Harvard Business Review)
    • This article explores the persuasive power of storytelling, drawing insights from renowned screenwriting lecturer Robert McKee.
  • Basic Toolkit for Pitching a Solutions-Oriented Story (Solutions Journalism Learning Lab)
    • This article explains how to pitch solutions-oriented stories, expanding on the fundamental questions every pitch should answer: “So What?” “Why Now?” and “Why Me?”
  • How to Get a Grant Webinar (Fund for Investigative Journalism)
    • In this 30-minute webinar, you’ll receive invaluable guidance on applying for (and winning) grants. Get firsthand perspectives from FIJ’s Board of Directors and hear from a grant recipient who shares her path to a winning application.
  • Strategies for Tracking Impact – A Toolkit for Collaborative Journalism (Solutions Journalism Network)
    • This guide can help you track your progress more effectively and identify what is most important to your organization, like building trust with your audience or getting more people interested in local news.
  • Impact Tracking Worksheet (Solutions Journalism Network)
    • This worksheet is a fantastic tool for quickly and consistently assessing what impact looks like for your organization, and your progress toward it.

We hope you find these resources inspiring and helpful. If you’re considering applying for any 2024 LION Sustainability Awards, please submit your entries by April 15, 2024, at 11:59 p.m. PT.

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