Indie pride: LION Publishers membership tops 100

Membership in Local Independent Online News Publishers reached more than 100 at the beginning of June, the national educational nonprofit

June 5, 2013 by Dylan Smith


Membership in Local Independent Online News Publishers reached more than 100 at the beginning of June, the national educational nonprofit announced Tuesday.

LION Publishers members include more than 90 dues-paying CEOs of local indie news sites around the country, plus their business partners and selected staff members.

"We're extremely proud that LION's members represent the continuing success of independent local news sites," said Dylan Smith, chairman of LION's Board of Directors.

"What's more, our publishers wish to share in their success by helping their peers," said Smith, the editor and publisher of "LION's mission is to support the growth and health of independent news operations. We'd love to see a LION Publisher rebuilding local news in every city and town."

LION's members operate news organizations from Hawaii to Brooklyn, from the Grand Tetons to the Alamo, covering urban, suburban and rural communities.

Besides geographic diversity, the publishers themselves represent a cross-section of ethnicities and cultures, and their news sites serve many different audiences and communities of interest. The publishers have different business models — some are nonprofit, some for-profit — and their businesses range in age from a year to a decade or more.

"I am delighted that the membership we have attracted is representative of the wonderfully diverse landscape of local independent journalism," said Charlotte-Anne Lucas, the managing director of San Antonio nonprofit, who serves on LION's Board of Directors and chairs the Membership Committee.

Membership drive backed by Patterson Foundation

LION's recruiting effort was bolstered by The Patterson Foundation, which helped underwrite LION's early organizational costs and matched up to half the dues of the new members.

"Support from The Patterson Foundation meant the world to us as we recruited news entrepreneurs to LION," said Lucas.

"The relationship with Patterson enhanced our credibility, assisted us as we formed the organization, and the generous matching offer made it possible for some very innovative boot-strapping publishers to join with their colleagues from across the nation," Lucas said, noting that beyond the current roster of publishers, LION has about a dozen applications pending.

Spurred by the foundation's support, "many of our publishers paid dues for three years in a great show of faith in what we can accomplish together," Smith said.

Janet Coats of Patterson's New Media Journalism Initiative welcomed the news of LION's growth.

"The LION Board brought to the membership recruitment effort the same persistence that we see in their approach to community journalism," Coats said. "We're pleased to see so many independent publishers taking advantage of this opportunity to band together for support and to amplify their voices on matters of most importance to their work."

One of LION's newest members, Shannon McDonald of, said "When I saw all the names involved, I knew it was something I wanted to be part of."

"I've already found LION more valuable than I could have imagined," McDonald said, mentioning the many daily discussions LION members participate in, offering advice to their colleagues in the organization's private, off-the-record group.

"I hope I can provide the same service for other members," said McDonald, indicating her readiness to share the lessons that she's learned in running her own site.

Block by Block summit spurred LION founding

The publishers' network was established by a working group that first met at the 2011 Block by Block Community News Summit in Chicago. A year of planning culminated with the public announcement of the group in September 2012, when LION began to sign up members.

Much of the credit for the formation of LION goes to Michele McLellan, who founded the series of three annual Block by Block conferences while a Reynolds Journalism Insitute fellow.

"I am very pleased at the outstanding response to LION by independent online news publishers," said McLellan, who publishes and sits on LION's Advisory Council.

"These publishers represent an important part of the emerging local news ecosystem and they are distinguished in particular by their commitment to their specific local communities," she said. "I am proud that I was able to help bring the publishers together through Block by Block, even prouder that they are collectively taking charge of their interests through LION."

LION's members acknowledged the role played by McLellan and the supporters of the publishers' meeting in bringing the organization to life.

"The recognition of a shared purpose that came from gathering local publishers together in Chicago led us to realize how vital it was for us all to work together," Smith said. "We're deeply in debt to Michele and the summit's sponsors for bringing us together in the first place."

'Over 90 news publishers have joined together. Congratulations to them! And to the rest: what are you waiting for?'

Prof. Jay Rosen of New York University is also member of LION's Advisory Council, and has seen the organization grow from its roots in Block by Block.

"There are new kinds of news publishers today: homegrown, lower-cost, born-on-the-web, independent. If they can make it to sustainability, they will renew our free press tradition. LION was founded to help this process along," Rosen said.

"Over 90 of the new kind of the news publishers have joined together. Congratulations to them! And to the rest: what are you waiting for?"

Publishers helping publishers

LION gives local news entrepreneurs the ability to call upon the widespread experience of those who’ve already faced down similar challenges.

Members encompass the gamut of business models, editorial approaches and community types: LION Publishers, both for- and nonprofits, are covering neighborhoods in major metros, photographing rural towns, investigating regional data stories, sponsoring debates, webcasting public meetings and videoing community groups.

'LION is my virtual newsroom support system.'

Amy Snider Senk publishes in California, and was an early advocate of establishing a publishers' group, having been a signer of a 2011 resolution supporting the move.

"I never hesitated to join LION and did so as soon as I could," she said.

Senk said she checks in with her LION peers daily. "LION is my virtual newsroom support system. I like the idea of being able to be locally focused in my news gathering, but having a support system that will make me a force instead of a lone voice."

Local indie news publishers are "changing the news business landscape, and I'm confident we will continue to establish ourselves," she said.

Ned Berke, a founding member of LION's Board of Directors, is the publisher of in Brooklyn.

"I'm thrilled to be part of an organization that has rallied together so many publishers so quickly," Berke said. "It's proof that there's a thriving local news ecosystem fueled by community-minded digital entrepreneurs, and I look forward to learning as much as I can from my new colleagues in LION."

Building the future of local news

LION Publishers is the only nationwide group representing the publishers and editors of local independent online news websites, who are successfully creating the future of reporting: locally owned and operated news outlets that directly serve their communities.

LION Publishers are online news leaders who are innovating in business, technology, communication and storytelling while honoring the rich heritage of local journalism.

"We have members who are running startup news operations, but we also have publishers who've learned how to operate effective, efficient businesses over the course of a decade," said Smith. "The conversation is moving beyond 'how to sustain local news' to 'how to make local news the best it can be.'"

The group's 11-member Board of Directors is composed entirely of publishers working in the field, representing a wide variety of business models and editorial approaches. Additionally, LION's Advisory Council of news pioneers provides valuable expertise to the organization.

'Being a member of LION means never lacking know-how, support and encouragement.'

LION offers members platforms for peer-to-peer networking, preferred rates from insurance brokers and other vendors, mentoring by leaders in the field, and online clinics on techniques for business and editorial success. LION is planning a national conference focused on local online news innovation and excellence to be held at Chicago's Columbia College in October 2013.

"LION establishes our independent publishing brethren and sistren as a bona fide media force, one that is nimble, quick and effective at delivering news to readers — and readers to advertisers," said Gerard DeMarco of New Jersey's

"Helping one another, we become stronger both individually and as a group. We share our tools, our skills, our knowledge — and, just as importantly, our sympathies," said DeMarco, who serves on LION's Board and chairs its Awards Committee. "Being a member of LION means never lacking know-how, support and encouragement. Individually, we are strong. United, we are mighty."


For more information on LION Publishers, contact Chairman Dylan Smith: [email protected]

Prospective members can learn more at

LION's member list is available at

About The Patterson Foundation

The Patterson Foundation believes that through communications, technology, and financial innovations, improvements may be achieved that transcend any single issue, entity, or geographic area. The Foundation provides resources to facilitate, expedite, and share methods, techniques, and tools, joining with others in creating new realities. For more information, please visit

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