Meet the 36 news businesses selected for the Sustainability Lab: Unblocking Revenue Barriers
These publishers will receive training, coaching, and funding to overcome a specific revenue challenge.
We are thrilled to announce the 36 publishers selected to participate in the Sustainability Lab: Unblocking Revenue Barriers. This program, a collaboration between the Google News Initiative and LION Publishers, is designed to help independent news organizations bridge the gap between strategic planning and day-to-day execution. During eight weeks, participants will pinpoint the obstacles hindering their revenue goals and strategically develop, test, and refine solutions to surmount these challenges.
“We’ve seen time and again how working through small blockers can lead to big wins for news businesses,” said Lisa Heyamoto, LION’s Director of Programming for Member Education. “But identifying those blockers can be challenging. This program is designed not only to help publishers articulate and address what’s standing in their way, it will also help them develop solutions they can apply to future obstacles.”
This program will provide:
- 1:1 coaching to help participants identify and overcome a specific revenue challenge
- Asynchronous training using a personalized curriculum
- A menu of deliverables from which each organization can select
- Peer-learning moments
- Up to $9,000 USD to implement what they’ve learned
These publishers were selected from more than 130 applications from news businesses based in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Canada. We selected them based on their clarity of purpose, urgency in tackling challenges, and alignment with the program’s objectives.
“This critical program builds on the Google News Initiative’s long-term partnership with LION Publishers, which has a proven track record of helping publishers grow their revenue,” said Chrissy Towle, Director of Americas Ecosystem & Associations News Partnerships at Google. “We’re confident that this program will make a significant difference in the sustainability and revenue of the news organizations who participate so they can continue to serve their communities.”
Of the 36 publishers in the program:
- 34 are based in the U.S. and 2 in Canada
- The median age is 5 years old
- The median gross annual revenue is $198,868
- They employ between 1-22 people, with an average of 3 full-time employees
- Almost all rely on more than one revenue stream
The publishers will be supported by an incredible group of coaches: AX Mina (Ana), Dan Petty, Graham Watson-Ringo, Jennifer Mizgata, John Davidow, Kimberly Spencer, Maria Archangelo, Richard Eugene Brown, and Shira Center (more information below).
Congratulations to all the participants!
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Revenue Challenge: We will focus on creating ongoing revenue strategies. We look forward to creating revenue marketing packages that ensure sustainability and learning more about how to design products that help us grow revenue.
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Revenue Challenge: We’d like to tackle the issue of recruiting, training, and retaining ad sales talent. Assistance with goal-setting is another area we’d like to address.
Location: Austin, Texas
Revenue Challenge: Gaining a clear understanding of our finances in order to create a financial strategic plan that’ll help me make informed decisions about the business. I want to better understand, forecast, and analyze the financial health of the news organization.
Location: Washington, D.C.
Revenue Challenge: Bolts is ready to take our audience development to the next stage by crafting a holistic reader revenue strategy with an eye to membership. We plan to use the LION Lab to identify the right infrastructure for tracking and communicating with donors, and to develop a plan for segmenting our newsletter and engaging our members to cultivate a deeper sense of community.
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Revenue Challenge: We want to create a strategic plan for the next year that outlines metrics for success and how much time and money we should invest in each revenue stream. This plan should also include markers for when we should hire for our next revenue position and suggestions on what that position might be.
Location: Boulder, Colorado
Revenue Challenge: We want to strengthen our newsletter sponsorship program. Since our December 2021 launch, we’ve leveraged a national grant to raise tens of thousands of dollars from our community. We surpassed our goals for individual donations and grants, but fell far short of our sponsorship goals despite substantial audience growth. Our goal is to unlock $100,000 in annual sponsorship revenue, with up to half coming from newsletter ads.
Location: Jackson, Wyoming
Revenue Challenge: Buckrail saw great growth in advertisers, staff, variety in ad offerings, and revenue over the past few years. We were able to bump our rates and charge a premium. As the economy has cooled, we are struggling to realign our rate sheet and increase the appeal of ad offerings while still holding on to the consistent, high-value advertisers that participate in more costly subscription plans.
Location: Warminster, Philadelphia
Revenue Challenge: Currently, most of our revenue is from a single sponsor. Our community contributions are flat, and our advertising program is non-existent. We need to increase revenue while diversifying where it comes from.
Location: Burlington, Massachusetts
Revenue Challenge: I plan to grow my general audience, grow my list of paying subscribers, and secure sponsorships from large donors while participating in in-kind partnerships with small businesses that don’t have the capital to spend on advertising. The advertising program I had attempted isn’t working, as the kinds of businesses I want to partner with don’t have the revenue to pay for advertising if they’re not making direct conversions. I would like to change course and seek corporate or non-profit sponsorships/partnerships that are more interested in gaining name recognition or entering an altruistic partnership to promote local news.
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Revenue Challenge: We plan to create and implement a sponsorship program specifically targeting local businesses in the communities where we work. We will develop the materials we need, such as a deck, sponsorship levels, and MOUs, and also put a plan and revenue goals in place to execute over the next year.
Location: South Carolina
Revenue Challenge: Our challenge is finding personnel to sell our advertising and marketing products. We’d also like to learn which products have the best return on investment.
Location: Fort St. John, British Columbia, Canada
Revenue Challenge: For the last three years, we have been offering our clients digital marketing services as a way to grow our revenue. With Bill C-18 passing and Meta blocking all media from their platforms, display advertising from our website cannot be relied upon to drive future growth. Digital marketing services are a clear path forward, and we need help to get these services in front of as many people as possible to build a long-term sustainable business.
Location: Evanston, Illinois
Revenue Challenge: I want to determine whether expanding my site’s service area makes financial sense, or whether I should focus on increasing revenue within my existing community.
Location: Fresno, California
Revenue Challenge: During the lab, I’d like to focus specifically on bringing in corporate sponsorships for a fall event while simultaneously conducting outreach to place newsletter sponsorships and website advertisements. I’d also like to identify strategies that can help streamline the workflow for smaller forms of advertising and sponsorships.
Location: Houston, Texas
Revenue Challenge: Currently, we are over-reliant on newsletter sponsorships, so we must expand website monetization and customize compelling packages. But doing so requires developing competencies that are still unfamiliar to our journalistic team. To meet our goals, we need to focus our resources on sales, audience analysis, and executing a diversified revenue strategy.
Location: Covington, Kentucky
Revenue Challenge: As we head into our third year, I’m focused on developing a long-term, sustainable cash flow for the business, with diversified revenue streams and a strong understanding of our ongoing expenses.
Location: Lakeland, Florida
Revenue Challenge: Sponsorships and major donors have large growth potential but are time- and attention-intensive. Without a staff position dedicated to revenue, we’re struggling with the bandwidth it takes to break through and then develop and retain the relationships required for this work.
Location: Moab, Utah
Revenue Challenge: We earn very good revenue from print advertising, but this needs to be diversified and grown to ensure our long-term sustainability. There are so many directions that we could go in, so we need support to determine where our energy is best put to use.
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Revenue Challenge: During this Lab, I aim to address the challenge of effectively monetizing the substantial traffic growth our news website has recently experienced, with nearly half a million page visits last month. I’m particularly interested in integrating advertising revenue with our business model. Additionally, as we venture into live events, I hope to get guidance on aligning our editorial strategy with our revenue objectives. I’d love to get help with our overall strategic plan to ensure that we can build in financial sustainability to support our editorial needs.
Location: Oviedo, Florida
Revenue Challenge: I would like to work on my leadership and management skills in order to adapt my nonprofit’s structure as it grows and expands. I’d like to take a deep look at OCN’s board and staff roles and plan financially for necessary changes and additions.
Location: Austin, Texas
Revenue Challenge: We need help systematizing and growing our advertising sales operations. We need help with digital revenue strategy and growth. We need help with subscriber management and subscriber growth strategies.
Location: New Jersey
Revenue Challenge: We have successfully raised the rate for our print advertising clients but we haven’t been able to hire revenue-focused team members. We haven’t seen growth in our current digital revenue or in non-profit revenue as a small business.
Location: San Jose, California
Revenue Challenge: Silicon Valley is one of the wealthiest regions in the world. There is great potential to increase our revenue to help expand our nonprofit journalism to neighboring cities and achieve our mission of uplifting voices of marginalized communities, igniting civic engagement, and strengthening our democracy. However, we’ve struggled to recruit and retain revenue-focused staff to identify new major donors, cultivate relationships with corporate sponsors, research foundational grants, and increase reader revenue.
Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Revenue Challenge: One of our biggest challenges is increasing major donor support so we can fund a fundraising support position and begin raising capital to develop our newsroom.
Location: Worcester, Massachusetts
Revenue Challenge: I need more sales experience to get us where we need to be. Becoming an expert in sales will help me become a better CEO. Moreover, I need to address the challenge of creating a narrative and collateral for sales and bundles, namely creating a media kit after assessing our current offerings and pricing and tweaking our products accordingly.
Location: Bedford, Massachusetts
Revenue Challenge: The Bedford Citizen would like to identify and engage local businesses as sponsors. We’d like to raise $65,000 in the next 6-to-18 months. We plan to use these funds to take on special projects and hire much-needed staff.
Location: Lafayette, Louisiana
Revenue Challenge: While we’ve grown subscriptions by 26% and monthly recurring revenue by 19% over the past year, our greatest challenge is developing a roadmap to strategically grow membership in order to meet our recurring revenue goal of $10,000 per month.
Location: Red Hook, New York
Revenue Challenge: I want to review the sponsorship program we currently have in place to determine what additional components we need to offer and if we are pricing sponsorship options at the right level.
Location: Los Angeles, California
Revenue Challenge: We set a goal of signing up 300 monthly contributors by the end of the year. But so far, we have been stuck below 220 even though we have ongoing messaging in our newsletter, website, and articles. I would like to leverage the lessons and coaching from the Lab and apply them to our fall/winter fundraiser to reach our target and increase the average contribution.
Location: Lansing, Illinois
Revenue Challenge: In order to get the help we need to increase our coverage of local news, we need additional funding from our existing revenue sources as well as new revenue sources. We’d like to improve our success at fundraising, ad sales, grant writing, obituary sales, and merchandise sales.
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Revenue Challenge: 1) How do we create a budget with growth in mind? 2) How do we know we’re effectively raising, managing, tracking, and spending our money?
Location: Williamsburg, Virginia
Revenue Challenge: I hope to begin diversifying my publication’s revenue streams by developing an initial ad sales and/or sponsorship plan. As part of that plan, I would like to tackle the challenge of growing my audience and reducing churn to become more appealing to potential advertisers. I also hope to start the process of identifying prospects.
Location: Reno, Nevada
Revenue Challenge: We are sustainable, but may be able to grow and expand. I need to focus less on reporting and more on business operations, so we need some kind of plan where I am not running everything.
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Revenue Challenge: We’d like to convert 20,000 newsletter subscribers to paying donors/members, expand local, small business sponsorships, and leverage our efforts to hire a full-time revenue staffer.
Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma (Muscogee Creek Reservation)
Revenue Challenge: After bootstrapping our organization for five years, we have built up steady streams of income to support our news operations. However, very little of this is news revenue, and we would like to learn how to take the funding we have to grow our news revenue streams, like advertising and sponsorships.
Location: Wausau, Wisconsin
Revenue Challenge: We want to establish monthly fiscal goals that will serve as a roadmap for future staff planning. We want to have a better idea of our monthly financial needs so we can plan for future expansion in a responsible way.
Sustainability Lab Coaches
AX Mina (Ana)
AX Mina (Ana) is a strategic consultant and leadership coach with over a decade of global experience in organizational strategy and leadership, technology development, public speaking, and media. She serves as Treasurer of the News Product Alliance and previously served as COO at Meedan, where she developed and oversaw strategies and processes around business development, fundraising, and hiring and retention. Her work takes a product-first and agile approach, designed around informed and measurable experiments to identify viable and scalable strategies, and she likes to work with clients to think creatively toward compelling solutions.
Dan Petty is the director of audience strategy for ProPublica. He leads the organization’s audience team, whose focus is to help ProPublica journalism reach wide, loyal, and diverse audiences on and off the organization’s platforms. He was previously director of audience development at MediaNews Group, where he worked on editorial strategy, operations, and business development and helped build the company’s digital subscription business. He previously spent seven years at the Denver Post in various production and editing roles, and he has consulted for news organizations in Kazakhstan on behalf of the International Center for Journalists and the U.S. State Department. He received a bachelor of science in biology and journalism from the University of Richmond and an MBA with honors from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 2022.
Graham Ringo, a 20-year journalism veteran, is a senior director at the News Revenue Hub in charge of client success and the point of contact for the organization’s newest tech venture, the News Revenue Engine, which will allow any organization to stand up a sustainable reader revenue program. A proud Mizzou graduate and Online News Association board member, Graham has worked for major metros, digital behemoths, and scrappy digital nonprofit startups, and is a lover of the full-funnel approach, well-crafted CTAs, making a budget and sticking to it, risky business, killer UX, and insider journalism speak.
Jennifer Mizgata is a consultant and coach who collaborates with organizations on program design, audience research, business, and operational strategy. Specializing in digital innovation, leadership development, and organizational change, Jennifer coaches managers, senior leaders, and entrepreneurs on their careers and business strategies. She helps teams and individuals shift mindset, work more collaboratively and bring new products to market. With extensive experience working at the intersection of journalism and technology, she has worked as a program director, editor, and business strategist, using human-centered design to build new products that respond to community needs and help create a more equitable world. She also teaches media, innovation and business strategy at American University and writes about improving work culture.
John Davidow is a journalist with over 30 years of experience leading major local digital, radio, and television newsrooms. He is a respected public radio innovator and digital strategist. John is a founder of Media Bridge Partners, a consultancy dedicated to building and supporting anti-racist news organizations. In 2022, John was a coach for LION’s GNI Startups Lab focused on Managing Money and Risk.
With over 22 years of experience in nonprofit fundraising and 8 years in revenue generation within news organizations, Kimberly has had the opportunity to contribute to various teams and projects. Her work in both nonprofit and for-profit newsrooms has helped organizations maximize revenue and efficiency. As a coach, she aims to walk alongside those she works with, offering encouragement and serving as a sounding board. She approaches conversations honestly and with compassion, always hoping to facilitate success. Her experiences have taught her a great deal, and she continues to learn and grow in this ever-evolving industry.
Maria is a compassionate and motivating leader of high-performing revenue, fundraising, sales, and membership teams. After a long career as a journalist, she now works as a partnership-builder, fundraiser, revenue-generator, grant writer, communications strategist, membership-grower, and public speaker. Her career in journalism taught her how best to connect with people, ask the right questions, understand their challenges, and come up with innovative solutions.
Richard Eugene Brown
Richard is an accomplished executive leader with over 15 years of experience in advertising sales, revenue operations, business development, and growth marketing within the news media industry. His journey began as an entry-level sales representative, and he has since progressed to senior roles at esteemed news organizations nationwide. Currently, he serves as the Senior Director of Retention at The Daily Beast, where he oversees subscriber management and implements strategies to reduce churn. Throughout his career, he has consistently excelled at devising and executing revenue growth plans, skillfully managing advertising budgets, and nurturing digital advertising sales teams. He takes immense pride in his role as a member of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation board, contributing to solutions for community content platforms and championing journalism excellence throughout Wisconsin. Additionally, he shares insights into ad sales and revenue strategies as a contributing writer for Editor & Publisher magazine, offering valuable insights to fellow industry leaders. He is also honored to have received the News Media Alliance’s Rising Star Award.
Shira T. Center is the general manager for editorial revenue and strategy at Boston Globe Media, the largest news organization in New England. In this role, Shira oversees the editorial calendar, programs, and products that drive commercial revenue growth, including live journalism events, news sponsorships, and newsletters. Before pioneering this unique role, Shira was an editor and reporter for 15 years, covering national and local politics, first in Washington, D.C., and then in Boston and throughout New England. She is an alumna of the Poynter Institute’s Leadership Academy for Women in Media, a former resident fellow with the Harvard Institute of Politics, and a 2023 MBA graduate from the Yale School of Management.
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