Median annual revenue increased 33% for LION members, data shows

Revenue growth accompanies a surge in local news entrepreneurship, including among historically underrepresented founders.

May 9, 2022 by Stephanie Snyder and Chloe Kizer

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams.
Photo by Suzanne D. Williams.

News businesses that are members of LION Publishers reported earning a median annual revenue of $125,000 in 2021 — a 33 percent increase compared to a self-reported median annual revenue of $94,000 in 2020. 

That’s according to the latest membership data we collected from nearly 400 LION members about the current state of their businesses. More than half of LION members that shared financial data in both 2020 and 2021 experienced revenue growth, which is an encouraging sign of journalism businesses becoming more financially healthy as they work to achieve long-term sustainability

We credit that progress to increased community investment, philanthropic support, training and resources dedicated to sustainability, and peer-to-peer learning from LION and other journalism-support organizations.

What it all adds up to: a landscape in which an independent news business with only one or two full-time employees can reliably earn more than $100,000 in annual revenue. In 2021, more than 50 of LION’s smallest member organizations hit that milestone, the data shows, further proving the viability of the community-centered approach many LION members are taking.

We’ve also seen a visible surge in new journalism businesses, as well as the growth of LION’s membership community. A few stats: 

  • LION’s membership has increased 71 percent year over year.
  • LION’s Aspiring Entrepreneur membership tier (for recently or soon-to-be-launched businesses) has nearly quadrupled year over year.
  • LION Aspiring Entrepreneurs now make up nearly 25 percent of LION’s membership community.

Another encouraging trend: More independent news founders who identify as a member of a traditionally underrepresented community — including those who identify as Black, Indigenous or as a person of color (BIPOC) — are launching news businesses. 

  • In 2022, 22 percent of our members identified as a race or ethnicity other than white, up from 17 percent in 2021. 
  • 32 percent of our Aspiring Entrepreneur members identify as coming from a traditionally underrepresented community.

Many of our Aspiring Entrepreneur members come to LION through our programs, like the recent cohorts of the Google News Initiative Startups Boot Camp, and through partnerships such as the Tiny News Collective’s 2021 and 2022 cohorts. We’re encouraged by other efforts, such as Borealis Philanthrophy’s Racial Equity in Journalism Fund, to further support BIPOC journalism leaders.

The growth in news organizations that are led by traditionally underrepresented founders and dedicated to community-led journalism is an important step toward improving equitable access to news and information. Historically, newsroom founders, leaders and staff have been majority white, which has often contributed to harmful or insufficient coverage for underrepresented or marginalized communities. 

Here’s a more in-depth snapshot of our LION membership as of Spring 2022:

LION Membership Overview

Revenue

Annual Revenue under $100K: 44%

Annual Revenue between $100K and $500K: 33%

Annual Revenue between $500K and $1M: 7%

Annual Revenue over $1M: 11%

Location

We have members in 47 states in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Canada. (We don’t yet have members in Alabama, Alaska or Indiana.) 

Tax Status

For-Profit: 63%

Nonprofit: 37%

Revenue streams by tax status:

This data is based on members’ top three reported revenue streams.

For-Profit: 

  • Direct-sold ads: 76% 
  • Memberships: 27%
  • Subscriptions: 23%

Nonprofit: 

  • Philanthropies / foundations: 74%
  • Small gifts: 71% 
  • Major gifts: 47% 
  • Memberships: 25%

Staff

0-2 full-time employees: 60%

3-5 full-time employees: 19%

6-10 full-time employees: 8%

More than 11 full-time employees: 11%

Organization Age

0-2 years: 31%

3-5 years: 20%

6-9 years: 15%

10+ years: 35%

Over the past year, we’ve overhauled how we’re collecting data from our members so that we can share back data like this and help our members better contextualize their business in the independent news ecosystem. We’re continuing to refine our data collection processes by revisiting our annual membership application and combining them with Project Oasis and our Sustainability Audits. 

It’s member-reported data like this that has helped inform LION’s new membership benefit, the LION-GNI Sustainability Audits and Funding program. By the end of 2022, 100 LION members will receive a sustainability audit to assess where they are on the path to long-term business stability, along with eligibility for funding to implement their highest-priority recommendations. LION members can apply to participate here

We want this data to be as useful to our members as it is in helping us understand our members’ needs — so tell us: What data can we share back with you so you can better understand your business in the context of your peers? Email [email protected] to let us know.

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