Lenfest’s Roxann Stafford emphasizes relationships, innovation, experimentation

By Suzanne Behnke

Roxann Stafford came to the 2019 LIONS Summit with a keynote address that got right to the point: Focus on communities not getting much attention, experiment and don’t limit yourself to one revenue stream.

Stafford’s experience comes from working as the managing director of the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, a $20-million initiative that “works to empower local news organizations to build trust with their audiences while producing outstanding journalism and developing new revenue streams that can enable them to reach long-term business sustainability,” according to the organization’s website.

Stafford acknowledge the blood, sweat and tears that many of LION members put in to their journalistic entrepreneurial efforts. “Everybody thinks there is a lot of risk,” she said.

At Lenfest, the main focus is on Philadelphia, and with that work, Stafford said it’s important to ask the community what they are trying to do and to communicate your intentions. The focus, she said, really needs to be on engaging with readers and community members.

“At the end of the day, we’re all looking to create sustainable relationships. Just building relationships allows us to do different things out there in the market,” she said.

She mentioned the once-mammoth movie rental chain Blockbuster as an example of a business model that didn’t innovate or change much. When Netflix appeared and understood how to use technology and to reach viewers, it changed the model of how people get that content. Blockbuster knew how to get real estate and hire teenagers. At Blockbuster, a customer might get the movie he or she wanted, but it might also not be available. Netflix understood it needed to provide content, which it has moved into, and distribution based on technology that could go anywhere.

While Stafford emphasized innovation and experimentation, she warned not to be distracted by every shiny object.

“It is good to figure out and experiment and think about as many different forms of revenue that you can bring as possible,” she said. “But I would also say be mindful. That doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself.” 

Suzanne Behnke has been an Iowa journalist for 25 years, working at the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, the Des Moines Register,  the Des Moines Business Record and now at The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism – IowaWatch. She has a master’s in public policy and is an adjunct instructor at Simpson College.