LION Publishers 2023 Annual Report

Independent news publishers offer a glimpse into the future of sustainable journalism.

February 6, 2024 by Chris Krewson

Photos of LION events in 2023

When there was hope in the local news space in 2023, it came from independent news publishers.

The barrage of layoffs and closures did little to deter these publishers, as we witnessed incredible levels of innovation, perseverance, and collaboration among newsrooms.

But just because local newspapers are dying doesn’t mean local news is in trouble. Instead, we’re seeing even more bright spots and developments that should be widely celebrated.

We saw this most acutely when we received nearly 300 LION Local Journalism Awards submissions –– an all-time high –– detailing successful revenue stream experiments and creative community engagement endeavors. There were so many exceptional entries that we opted for co-winners in several categories. And I won’t soon forget the moment when our ceremony co-host, Outlier Media’s Candice Fortman, accepted a LION Business of the Year Award, and the room *erupted* in raucous applause. 

To be clear, we weren’t the only ones who celebrated how independent news publishers bucked the negative local news narrative in 2023. When the Medill Local News Initiative released its State of Local News 2023 report, it highlighted 17 “privately held and controlled” news organizations as literal “bright spots” –– beacons of hope in an otherwise grim landscape. Nieman Lab also profiled the success of five local news startups (all LIONs) and how they do things differently. Even The New York Times took note; its December 22 newsletter, “The rebirth of local journalism,” featured the work of nearly two dozen LIONs, with many more listed online.

But we still have more work to do. In fact, we aim to significantly strengthen our support for independent news publishers over the next five years, as outlined in our recently released strategic plan.

2023 set the stage for what’s to come, and we’re super inspired by our progress. Notably, we hit a major milestone by reaching more than 500 members in the U.S. and Canada. We also:

  • Completed 75 Sustainability Audits and 96 Progress Reports, two popular programs now bolstered by our new maturity model, which maps the growth path of an independent news business
  • More than tripled our planned monetary support following the completion of those Audits and Progress Reports, from $6,000 per participant to $20,000, thanks to a two-year commitment from the Google News Initiative
  • Received 140 applications for 36 spots in our Sustainability Lab: Unblocking Revenue Barriers, demonstrating just how invested our members are in finding solutions to stubborn business challenges
  • Gathered affinity groups for publishers who identify as BIPOC and/or LGBTQIA+, and launched a Community Ambassadors program to identify publishers not yet on our radar and foster connections among local peers
  • Hosted two regional meetups, one in the Deep South and another in the Southeast, bringing together 250 news publishers and supporters for learning and connection

All this work wouldn’t have been possible without our dedicated industry supporters, including the Google News Initiative, the Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Walton Family Foundation.

So what’s next? We’ve outlined six goals in our strategic plan, and we’ll start chipping away at those while continuing to do what we do best –– helping independent publishers build more sustainable news businesses. We look forward to iterating on our learnings and sharing our insights with you along the way. 

Thanks for a great 2023.

Chris Krewson
Executive Director

Cover image of LION's 2023 Annual Report
Read LION’s 2023 Annual Report.
Report design by Ben Cunningham, Mach Five Design

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