Learn more about LION’s Focus Members 

One of LION’s core values is to ensure the independent news industry is creating space for leaders from historically marginalized or underrepresented backgrounds to thrive. Based on that value, in the strategic growth plan we published in October 2023, we created a new key metric that we’re holding ourselves accountable to over the next five years: Supporting 100 of our Focus Members along the path to the Growing stage of our sustainability maturity model.

So who's a LION Focus Member? We created our Focus Member criteria based on our experience listening to and coaching BIPOC and LGBTQIA+–led news businesses on the challenges they face as well as entrepreneurship and small business research (including this Pivot Fund study) that tells us founders and leaders with these identities face the greatest institutional barriers to success.

Supporting 100 Focus Members to the Growing stage of our maturity model will be a big challenge. But we believe it's a crucial one for us to take on so we can begin understanding how LION can best contribute to an inclusive and equitable independent news ecosystem. We also strongly believe providing focused support to Focus Members will ultimately benefit the entirety of our membership the same way many of our previous programs have.

For example, our LION-Meta Revenue Growth Fellowship program— which gave funding and direct coaching to 12 LION members— ultimately led to the creation of an Operational Resilience handbook and News Entrepreneur Academy courses that focus on best practices for organizations to follow before hiring for a revenue role. The handbook and course are available to all LION members. Most importantly, though, this program helped inform one of our most foundational ideas in our programming: resilient operations are key to financial success.

We'll have more to share on our strategies for supporting our Focus Members soon, but in the meantime, below is a more in-depth FAQ on our Focus Member criteria. As always, we’re committed to transparently sharing our work as it progresses, as well as our thought processes. Drop us a line at [email protected] if you have comments or questions.

Who’s a Focus Member?

Member organizations who are:

  • In the following sustainability stages: Building or Maintaining and
  • Currently led by someone who identifies as: Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Latine, or Person of Color, and/or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, or as a member of broader gender and sexually diverse communities

We're using BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ as shorthand for the above.

We define “led by” as someone who is currently in at least one of the following roles in an organization: CEO/Executive Director, Founder, Publisher, Editor, Chief Operating Officer, or Chief Financial Officer.

We will identify Focus Members based on data we’re gathering through Sustainability Audits and membership applications. 

What percentage of our current membership meets the Focus Member criteria?

As of September 2023, nearly one-third of our member organizations are led by one or more people who identify as BIPOC or LGBTQIA+. Of those member organizations, about 36 percent are currently in the sustainability stages of Building, Maintaining, or Poised for Growth based on members self-reporting their sustainability stage in their membership application. That’s about 10 percent of our overall membership.

This is an intentionally small number. We will hold ourselves accountable to providing the support that Focus Members — initially just a few, then more over time — need in order to progress to the Growing stage of sustainability.

We strongly believe that by providing more hands-on support to a smaller group of members, we’ll learn lessons that will ultimately result in helping our membership as a whole and at scale. 

Why did you decide to focus on leader identities instead of other factors?

We recognize that an important way to ensure historically marginalized communities are being served with independent journalism is to support organizations serving those communities. And we ultimately believe one of the most important indicators of success for a news organization is who is leading it. In other words, we know that a BIPOC and/or LGBTQIA+ leader will face more barriers to raising funds and hiring and growing an independent news organization. That’s why we’ve decided to prioritize organizations as Focus Members based on leader identities rather than the communities they serve.

Why are we specifically prioritizing the identities of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+?

LION’s data shows that publications with leaders who identify as BIPOC and/or LGBTQIA+ experience entrepreneurial challenges more acutely. For example, news businesses led by someone from a traditionally marginalized group:

  • Have lower median amounts of original funding when they launch their publication
  • Have much less cash on hand and a lower maximum revenue
  • Are less likely to have a dedicated person on staff focused on revenue generation
  • Tend to be slightly younger and slightly smaller than other news organizations 
  • Are less likely to be able to afford to pay leaders a salary at market rate

In addition, industry research shows that folks who identify as BIPOC and/or LGBTQIA+ have less access to capital, networks, and other resources to run a successful startup. 

  • News businesses led by people coming from historically marginalized backgrounds have less access to capital, less business experience and lower capacity than news businesses led by people from non-marginalized backgrounds. (LION Publishers)
  • BIPOC-founded news organizations report high rates of difficulty balancing the constraints of digital news production with the needs of their communities and philanthropic demands. (The Pivot Fund)
  • Of the $11.9 billion that businesses and philanthropies pledged to racial justice work between 2015-2020, just 28 percent went to communities of color (Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity)

We acknowledge that many more types of people have been marginalized in the independent news industry, and the media industry at large: for example, people with physical and mental disabilities, those from a socioeconomically disadvantaged background, or those without a high school or college education… the list goes on.

And we’ve decided to focus on BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ founders because we believe they have the highest need for support within our current LION membership and in the industry at large. Also, given our existing programs and resources, we feel best prepared to support folks with these identities, while acknowledging we have more work to do.

Why are you using the term BIPOC to identify these leaders?

We acknowledge that the terminology for identifying people from racial and ethnically marginalized backgrounds is not perfect. In lieu of listing out every single race/ethnicity that would qualify as a “Person of Color,” we’re choosing to use “Person of Color” in hopes that it’s widely understood enough to help define who is a Focus Member. Please contact us at [email protected] if you are unsure whether you fall into the “Person of Color” category.

How might we serve other members who come from marginalized backgrounds?

While we are narrowly defining who is a Focus Member, our Membership team will continue to support all members who face specific barriers to their success. An example might be a dedicated Slack channel for those looking for mental health support from experts and/or peers; another might be creating a News Entrepreneur Academy course on how to generate revenue in low-income communities. In short, we are reserving our highest-intensity support for our Focus Members, and we will still find other ways to support challenges other members face.

We’re committed to continuing to evaluate our approach for how to best serve our overall membership and our members who face the greatest institutional challenges. Please feel free to share your thoughts and feedback with our Executive Director Chris Krewson at [email protected]