Introducing Project Oasis: A deep dive into the fast-growing world of independent news startups

There are more than 700 independent local news startups in the U.S. and Canada, and a third of them launched

March 11, 2021 by Chloe Kizer

Are you a news entrepreneur who would like to be included in the database? Submit your information <a href=""> here. </a>
Are you a news entrepreneur who would like to be included in the database? Submit your information here.

There are more than 700 independent local news startups in the U.S. and Canada, and a third of them launched in the last five years alone.

That’s just one of the insights we learned from our research from Project Oasis, a joint initiative between LION Publishers, UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, Douglas K. Smith, and the Google News Initiative.

As part of this project, today we’re launching a database cataloguing key data and information about these independent news publications, an executive report providing a detailed summary of our research, and a Startups Playbook to help even more aspiring news entrepreneurs eventually join the Oasis list.

Here are six highlights from our research report, which you can download here:

  1. The number of independent local news organizations grew by 50 percent in the last five years. If the trend from the last couple of years continues, there will be more than 760 news organizations operating in the US and Canada within the next year.
  2. One in five publishers feel that their organization has reached sustainability and another two in five believe they are in the path. The field is young and publishers are operating in a challenging financial environment, but this shows that the field is strengthening with time.
  3. Four in five of digital, local news organizations have fewer than 5 full time employees. Many operate with a mix of staff, part-timers, contractors and volunteers across all business units.
  4. About three-fourths operate as commercial businesses, most commonly as LLCs. The others are nonprofits, which tend to be larger in size and also tend to have more funding.
  5. Many rely heavily on a single source of significant revenue, most often local advertising. Outlets that have multiple sources are more likely to be profitable
  6. Most spend a majority of their budget on editorial expenses. Among 50 outlets that supplied in-depth information, only half have personnel dedicated to the business side.

How to use this database

The database presents key information about this rapidly growing and maturing industry, giving news entrepreneurs, funders, and those interested in the field a central point of reference. The database is accessible via map and list-based views, while it also contains individual profile pages for all included publishers. Let’s take a tour:

Our Interactive Map

Zoom in and out of our interactive map to get a bird’s eye view of the communities served by independent news publications. Each pin represents a single news organization, while clusters are color-coded to indicate the density of news organizations in a geographic area. Based on this visualization, we can see where local independent news organization have gained the greatest traction — in the Northeast corridor.

The view of the U.S. highlights a lot to celebrate, with clusters of organizations spread throughout the country. And it also helps us identify opportunity, and where work still needs to be done. For example, only one organization is listed in Kansas and Nebraska. None are located in North Dakota.

Our List View

The list view of the database allows viewers to slice up the industry, filtering by product, tax status, revenue streams and more. You can come to the database with questions like “How many nonprofit newsrooms create podcasts?”, “How many Canadian news organizations focus on hyperlocal news?”, or “Are there any digital news organizations speaking to POC in my state?” and view and/or export a list of organizations that fit the criteria you’re looking for.

Our Publisher Profile View

Each publisher is building something unique to their market. For this reason each publisher also gets their own profile, presenting a variety of characteristics of the publisher in a single view.

To build the database we sent out a survey to over 700 news organizations and 260 responded with key editorial, financial, organization, and distribution data. The remaining 400+ organizations have basic profiles including location, age, and tax status. (If your organization is missing or you want to flesh out its profile, submit your information here.)

Thanks to these robust profiles, viewers can dig deeper into the choices individual publishers are making. For example, if you are thinking about starting a news business in your town, but want to know how other organizations in your area allocate their budget, you can view their profile to learn more.

How to add your information

Our research last year illustrates how far this industry has come, and we are looking forward to tracking the growth of digital, local news into the future. The more information that is shared through the database, the more data we have to advocate for more investment into and support for this industry. We are open year-round to new submissions and updates. Feel free to contact us anytime if you have any questions.

What’s next for Project Oasis

Project Oasis isn’t simply seeking to analyze the industry, we want to actively help it grow. With this goal in mind, we are also launching the Google News Initiative’s Startups Playbook, a step-by-step guide for aspiring news entrepreneurs to launch a news publication in their community. Read the Playbook and learn more about it from its writer LION Community Manager, Ben DeJarnette.

LION Publishers is an association for independent news entrepreneurs. Sign up for our weekly email newsletter, our News Entrepreneurs Slack community, and become a LION member.

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