Michele McLellan reflects on past six years of local news

Michele McLellan organized the Block by Block conference during 2010-12, the precursor to the LION Publishers Summit. LION chairman Dylan

October 4, 2015 by Chris Krewson

LION Summit coverage by Sally Duros

“I’m happy to see people here I don’t know,” said Michele McLellan, as she began her talk on the 2015 State of Local News.

As the organizer of the Block by Block conference during 2010-12, the precursor to the LION Publishers Summit, McLellan has been instrumental in developing an essential entrepreneurship program for local news publishers.

LION chairman Dylan Smith, publisher of the TucsonSentinel.com introduced her as the fairy godmother of local news.

“Six years ago, I was a fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute when I first started looking at hyperlocal,” McLellan said.

The dominant narratives at that time were that the online news world was populated by either legacy media organizations like newspapers or angry bloggers at home in their slippers.

“I got interested because I was seeing there was something in between …. these small startup newsrooms,” McLellan said.

She decided that even if 90 percent of the sites weren’t doing responsible journalism, she would look for the good 10 percent who were. The fruits of that exploration are recorded in Michele’s List, a database tracking about 300 mostly for-profit news sites that are working on revenue, transparent in their business practices and actually producing journalism.

McLellan said the database is a tool to tell an accurate story about the independent online new space and to focus on the revenue picture.  Her annual survey tries to get a sense of where the news sites are in terms of revenue and how their operations affect revenue.

Among the major take-aways from McLellan’s talk: Sales tend to be flat when publishers do both sales and editorial and the more successful sites bring on a professional sales person.

“That’s a lot easier to say than to do,” McLellan said.  

Said David Boraks, publisher of DavidsonNews.Net, which ceased publication earlier this year: “I wish I had started with an ad sales person as a partner.”

Much of McLellan’s talk centered on the results of her 2016 Publisher’s survey, which can be found here.  Watch the live stream for the informative Q&A.


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