Introducing a small business newsletter, specifically for digital news publishers

Here’s what we learned from our 2021 reader survey, and how we’re using it to shape what comes next.

February 2, 2022 by Ben DeJarnette

LION newsletter graphic

The digital news boom over the past five years has included nonprofits and for-profits, topical podcasts and hyperlocal newsletters, one-person teams and full-fledged newsrooms. 

In other words, independent online news is a big tent. 

But there’s at least one thing these publishers share in common: They’re all small businesses, responsible for managing a budget, filing taxes, and delivering a product to consumers regardless of their size, medium, or tax status. 

At LION, we’re focused on helping these small businesses become stronger and more sustainable, which we believe starts with a foundation of operational resilience, financial health, and journalistic impact

Our newsletter will share this goal, and it will also reflect the feedback you shared in our reader survey last December. (Check out latest editions.)

Here’s what we learned from that survey, and how we’re using it to shape what comes next. 

Sign up for the LION newsletter.

1. Revenue is your top concern. 

More than 80 percent of you chose funding opportunities as one of the content types you find most useful, ahead of practical tips and case studies (75 percent), industry news (64 percent) and skills-building opportunities (57 percent). 

We also asked “how could the newsletter be more useful to you,” and funding opportunities and strategies were among the most-cited answers: 

  • “If it included more funding opportunities.”
  • “More content on creative – even collaborative – approaches to funding.” 
  • “Focusing more on funding sources – and sharing the challenges faced by other LION members.”

We’ve heard you loud and clear: The newsletter will have a stronger focus on money going forward, including how to raise it (capital), earn it (revenue) and manage it as a small business. 

2. You want to learn from each other. 

The LION community has always had a strong ethic of learning and growing together, and that’s one reason many of you cited for signing up for the newsletter: 

  • “To stay up to date with fellow organizations.”
  • “To find out about new ideas in local journalism.”
  • “To learn what other independent publishers are doing.”

Last year, we launched the News Guest podcast to help amplify our members’ work and share insights into how they’re accomplishing it. 

We plan to double down on that type of content in 2022, with more case studies and practical advice featured in the newsletter each week. 

3. You want to better understand the independent news industry.

Another takeaway from our reader survey is that you want to understand the broader context that independent news businesses are operating within, and how that context is changing:

  • “I appreciate the specific lens on this part of the journalism industry.”
  • “I want to keep up with news and developments in this area of journalism.”
  • “I want to learn more about indie publishing, present and future.”

We also saw your interest in industry news reflected in our metrics: Our most opened and forwarded newsletters last year were the ones that offered an original perspective on industry trends, such as the challenge of burnout and the bigger picture behind Ben Smith and Justin Smith’s new venture

In 2022, our newsletter will continue to think big-picture about the trajectory of independent news, and share what we’re learning from our research and programs at LION.

4. You don’t like emojis in the subject line. 

Well, at least one of you doesn’t! So we’re going to try axing the emojis for a while and see how it goes. (If open rates go down, the emojis will be back. 😉) 

We also received a few other format suggestions that we’re planning to test: 

  • Breaking the content into multiple newsletters. To better serve our members, we’re going to send a special version of the newsletter at least twice a month that will focus on making the most of their membership.
  • Publish more content focused on Canadian markets and outlets. We hear you, Canada! More content from north of the border to come. 
  • Provide a summary of conversations in the News Entrepreneur Community Slack group. There’s so much great conversation that happens in our Slack community, so a couple times a month we’ll round up some of the best gems and link out to active threads you might have missed. 

As always, we plan to tweak things as we go, so send me a note if you have feedback, and please help us grow the newsletter by signing up here and sharing this post.

LION Publishers is a professional journalism association for independent news publishers, now with more than 400 members in the U.S. and Canada.

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