More than two years ago, the Google News Initiative and LION Publishers launched the GNI Startups Lab with the aim of helping 10 news businesses achieve long-term sustainability through hands-on training and revenue experimentation. Based on the success of that program, we expanded our partnership in 2022 to launch three Startups Labs serving a total of 48 publishers focused on key areas for building a sustainable news business: managing money and risk, building and managing a team, and planning for revenue growth.
We learned that participants who saw the most significant progress tackled a specific issue using existing resources and implemented their learnings immediately. We also learned that identifying and addressing barriers to revenue growth was critical to making that progress.
That’s why we’re thrilled to announce the Sustainability Lab: Unblocking Revenue Barriers, again in partnership with GNI. This Lab will help independent news organizations bridge the gap between big-picture planning and daily execution. Participants will identify what’s standing in the way of meeting their revenue goals and articulate and test creative solutions for overcoming those blockers.
With the support of asynchronous training, one-on-one coaching, peer learning and up to $9,000 in direct support, each of the 36 participants will develop a custom curriculum and tailored deliverables that will help clear the way for revenue growth and make progress toward sustainability.
We recognize that blockers or challenges will vary for each organization, which is why we’re focusing our efforts on three main tracks that we know have a proven impact on sustainability.
- Understanding your finances to plan strategically: This track addresses the ability to understand and analyze the financial health of your news business, including revenue, expenses, and cash flow. It involves having a clear understanding of the financial metrics and indicators that are most important for your business, and using that data to make informed decisions about budgeting, forecasting, and strategic planning.
- Hiring, supporting, managing and/or retaining members of your team in a revenue role: This track addresses the importance of having the right role, the right person, the right goals and the right support in place for a team member focused on revenue generation. It might address any combination of the following: role development, recruitment, hiring, training, support, setting clear expectations and key performance indicators (KPIs) for revenue goals, or creating processes and fostering an environment of collaboration, innovation, and accountability.
- Growing or leveling-up an existing revenue stream: This track involves identifying opportunities to expand or optimize a current revenue stream, which could include developing revenue-generating assets, gaining a better understanding of your audience to inform a reader-revenue ongoing program, or setting up the right tool for tracking leads, donors, members, or subscribers.
This program will support news organizations to maximize their revenue growth potential by providing:
- 1:1 coaching to help participants identify and overcome a specific challenge
- Asynchronous training using a personalized curriculum to ensure participants learn the skills and knowledge they need to achieve their goals
- A menu of deliverables from which each organization can select to focus on areas that will have the biggest impact on their revenue
- Peer-learning moments to provide participants with the opportunity to share experiences and learn from each other
- Up to $9,000 USD in funding to work on deliverables that implement their learnings
During the eight-week program, participants will:
- Identify revenue pain points and what’s standing in the way of meeting revenue goals
- Understand how to create a problem statement to articulate challenges
- Analyze ideas and potential solutions using creative problem-solving frameworks
- Apply problem-solving frameworks to the most urgent blockers and iterate based on feedback
- Synthesize financial and operational data to make informed decisions about budgeting, forecasting, and strategic planning and/or hiring, supporting, managing, and retaining members of their team in a revenue role and/or identifying opportunities to expand or optimize current revenue streams
- Understand how to apply problem-solving frameworks to other painpoints and blockers
Participants will also gain insights and ideas from their peers in the program, with whom they can share their experiences, successes, and challenges with others in the program.
How to apply for the Sustainability Lab: Unblocking Revenue Barriers
Applications are open until Wednesday, July 19 at 5 p.m. Eastern Time. Read our FAQ below for more details on the programs, eligibility, funding and more.
Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly does the Sustainability Lab entail?
Over the course of eight weeks, you’ll receive:
- 1:1 Coaching: Participants will receive personalized coaching sessions with experts that are designed to help them identify and overcome their specific challenges. The coaching will provide guidance and support tailored to each organization’s unique circumstances.
- Asynchronous Training: Participants will have access to asynchronous training through LION’s News Entrepreneur Academy. They will be able to personalize their curriculum to ensure they can acquire the necessary skills and knowledge required to achieve their revenue goals.
- Menu of Deliverables: Each organization will have the opportunity to select from a menu of deliverables. This menu offers a range of options that can be tailored to address the areas that will have the biggest impact on their revenue growth. Participants are also welcome to propose deliverables that are most relevant to them.
- Peer-Learning Moments: Participants will have opportunities to engage with their peers, share experiences, and learn from each other. We want to foster collaboration, exchange ideas, and build a supportive community within the program.
- Funding Support: To implement their learnings and drive revenue growth, participating organizations will have the opportunity to access up to $9,000 USD in funding. This financial support can be utilized to implement the knowledge gained during the program, enabling organizations to put their learnings into practice.
How much funding is available and how can I access the funding?
Program participants who submit their custom deliverables can then access up to $9,000 USD in funding. LION does not require a budget or a financial report specifically related to this funding. We know that news leaders are best equipped to determine how to utilize these resources within your organization.
Am I eligible to apply?
Organizations that meet the following eligibility requirements are welcome to apply:
- Based in the U.S. or Canada
- Independently owned and operated. (This can include public media outlets if the public media outlet has merged with an independent publication and the two are independently run and funded; This can include college-based publications if they are independently run and/or funded.)
- Produce original content that is primarily on a digital platform(s)
- Operating for at least six months
- The majority of content must be focused on local news and/or geographically-constrained communities. National news should be written through a local lens or context. We will also accept publications that are not geographically constrained but offer single-subject news for a specific community.
- The content demonstrates a desire and an effort to practice accuracy, transparency and fairness
- Can demonstrate some progress on the path to sustainability, i.e., increased site visits, a growing membership program or increased earned revenue
We will prioritize organizations which identify as being in the following stages of sustainability, as this program is best suited to their challenges and needs:
- Building: Iterating products based on audience and market research while building a foundation for the supporting revenue and operations.
- Maintaining: Increasing journalistic impact and audience growth while still seeking operational and financial stability.
- Poised for Growth: Preparing for a growth catalyst while products, revenue and operations are stable.
Do I have to be a LION member to apply?
No. The Sustainability Lab: Unblocking Revenue Barriers is open to any news business that meets the eligibility requirements. However, once accepted to the program, you must apply to become a LION member and be accepted before the program starts. Learn more about how to become a LION member here.
Can I apply for this program if I was selected for a Lab last year?
Certainly. However, we will prioritize applicants who have not been selected for a previous Lab in order to support as many publishers as we can.
Can I apply for this program if I was selected for a Sustainability Audit?
Yes, Labs and Audits are considered separate programs, but we view them as complementary. In fact, if you have already received a Sustainability Audit and are seeking guidance on implementing the recommendations, this Lab could be an excellent fit for you.
How will you evaluate applications?
Applications will be evaluated based on the clarity and urgency of your challenges, your readiness to address them and whether the program is designed to support them. We are not expecting applicants to have all the answers, but we are interested in receiving clear and specific questions.
What if I need support in more than one or all three tracks?
We view the three tracks as intersecting, and most news organizations would likely benefit from support in more than one track. However, we encourage participants to think about where they need the most support right now in order to meet revenue goals. Unless your challenge sits at the intersection of all three tracks, we recommend narrowing in as much as possible.
What if I’m not accepted? Can LION still help me strengthen my news business in these areas?
Absolutely, and this is a great year for that. Applications are open for the Sustainability Audit and Funding program that comes with $20,000 USD in direct funding for 2023 and 2024. You can take asynchronous courses through the News Entrepreneur Academy and all the templates and deliverables from the Lab will be available there.
LION will also host the Southeast News Sustainability Meetup in Durham, North Carolina. This will be an intimate, local opportunity for independent newsroom leaders, funders and supporters based in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Georgia, as well as Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky and other states extending into the Mid-Atlantic.
What is the time commitment for this program?
This is an intensive eight-week program, which requires up to 4 hours of work per week. Think of it as a deep dive into the most pressing challenge your news organization is currently facing. The program is designed so your investment of time and effort will contribute to the overall sustainability of your news organization.
Still have questions? Reach out to Andrew Rockway, LION’s program manager, at [email protected].
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