LION Membership Criteria

LION Publishers helps our members build stronger, more sustainable news businesses by providing coaching, training, direct funding and other essential small business support. Learn more about our membership benefits, pricing and how to apply.

LION staff use the following criteria to determine whether an applicant is approved as a member organization:

Local content

The publication is devoted primarily to original, local news in the U.S. or Canada.

  • Your publication must be based in the U.S. or Canada. We’re happy to accept members of non-English speaking publications. Given our current staffing, you should have at least one staff member who can speak English so you can take advantage of LION’s services and resources. At this time, LION only provides services in English.
  • This can include aggregation, but all aggregated or curated content must give credit and/or link to the original source. If you can prove to us you’re making a commitment to do this in the near future, we will accept your application.
  • 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. (Note: Our primary focus is supporting geographically-focused publications; we will also accept publications that are not geographically constrained but offer single-subject news for a specific community.)

Independent Ownership

This means you are privately owned and not primarily or majority owned by a publicly traded company, newspaper chain, hedge fund or private equity firm and/or political or religious institution.

  • This can include public media if the public media is 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.

Digitally native and/or dominant

Either you have a digitally native publication, you publish or have a commitment to publishing the majority of your content digitally.

  • Examples can include newsletter-only, podcast-only publications or any other creative forms of digital distribution that reaches your intended communities. If you can prove to us you’re making a commitment to do this in the near future, we will accept your application.

Ethical Practices

The content demonstrates a desire and an effort to practice accuracy, transparency and fairness.


  • Your reporting is fact-based and accurate.
  • You have a publicly posted corrections policy.


  • You’re clear with your audience about your funding and revenue sources.
  • Non-profits: You post your 990 IRS form and donor list.
  • For-profits: You clearly label advertising and sponsored content.
  • Your readers can easily find out who you are, why they should trust you, and how to get in touch with you.
  • All content should be bylined and easy for the reader to figure out who wrote it (By [PUBLICATION] staff is fine depending on the article context).


  • You clearly label opinion pieces.
  • You give sources/story subjects a chance to respond or comment in articles.

Community Engagement

Your publication demonstrates a desire and an effort to promote community engagement and participation.

  • You respond to reader feedback and suggestions.
  • You offer opportunities for readers to discuss or react to your content.
  • You actively try to build relationships with your audience.

Financial Sustainability

The publication’s leader/owner is trying to create revenue.

  • This doesn’t mean that the publication has to be your primary source of income, but that the owner is trying to make the publication financially sustainable in some way.

LION regularly revisits our membership criteria so we can reflect the evolving independent news industry. Our membership criteria is meant to set clear standards of membership, not to be exclusionary. If you have comments or questions about our criteria, or you’re not sure whether you qualify as a member, email us at [email protected].