10 local publishers chosen for local advertising mentorship program

LION program will help local online news sites move toward sustainability

By Matt DeRienzo | Mar. 8, 2018

Ten independent online news publishers from across the country have been chosen to participate in a yearlong program that will offer assistance in building advertising support for local journalism, LION Publishers announced Thursday.

Chosen from a group of 79 applicants to participate in RAMP — the Revenue from Advertising Mentorship Program — were:

The participants, all members of Local Independent Online News Publishers, will work with mentors and industry experts organized by LION, and share the outcomes of their revenue projects via LION white papers, conference sessions and more.

Siewert said she’s looking forward to the program giving her newsroom a boost.

“This is an amazing opportunity that will truly transform our newsroom by giving us the tools to diversify our revenue stream while adopting new, best practices for advertising programs,” she said. “We see this as the way to firmly establish our long-term sustainability as a local, independent, online news site for central Wisconsin, and we are incredibly grateful to have been chosen. Thank you, LION!”

RAMP is made possible by a grant from the Democracy Fund. It will help participants build a sustainable revenue stream from local advertising through training in best practices, market-specific advice and assistance, and a yearlong mentorship system. The program will provide funding for software and supplies, travel, and stipends to help publishers free up the time to participate.

LION Publishers is well-positioned to take the lead in the critical work of supporting local news entrepreneurs, said Tracie Powell, a member of the organization’s Board of Directors.

“Who best to coach emerging independent news publishers than successful independent news publishers?” she said. “We've made the mistakes, learned from them, and now we have the chance to share with others and show them how to do it better.”

“The 10 publishers represented — in what we hope to be the first cohort of a continuing program — represent only a small pool of the journalists doing some of the most important work of our time,” Powells said. “They are  strengthening local communities by satisfying critical information needs with quality content, investigative reporting, and solutions-driven journalism. RAMP will focus on the business side of journalism, which supports all of this important work.”

“I am especially proud of the diversity this cohort represents, and we hope to build on this important aspect in subsequent groups,” she said.

In addition to the basics of the sales process, setting rates and ad positions, creating marketing materials, identifying local business prospects, and using customer-relation management software, RAMP will work with some participants in establishing native advertising and sponsored content as a revenue stream, and in monetizing email newsletters.

The 10 publishers selected for the program come from all different parts of the country, and represent a diverse mix of business models, including three who run nonprofit local news organizations, and three that target either a niche local topic (transportation issues in the Washington, D.C., area with DC Commute Times) or traditionally underserved audience (people of color in Madison, Wisconsin, with Madison 365, and the LGBTQ community in Georgia with Project Q Atlanta).

The Mendocino Voice is covering news stories in a vast rural area in northern California that wouldn’t be written if it didn’t exist, a common thread among the publishers who were chosen, including several that cover city markets, including Flint Beat, Brick City Live in Newark, and the Gentilly Messenger in New Orleans.

Given both the talent and the need, narrowing down the applicants was difficult, said Steve Beatty, a LION consultant who served on the selection committee.

“The fact that every one of the publishers who applied would have made a great participant in this program speaks to the quality of the work LION members are doing, as well as their hunger to improve the business operations of their newsrooms,” he said. “Ideally, the work of these 10 will benefit all members in some ways, as we share our triumphs and challenges over the next year. We look forward to involving more members however we can.” 

“We’re very grateful to the Democracy Fund for their investment in this program,” said Dylan Smith, publisher of TucsonSentinel.com and the chair of LION’s Board. “RAMP’s launch is a testament to the important work that local news sites are doing, and to LION’s efforts to help support them in becoming more sustainable and even better connected to their communities.”

Adrian Fernandez Baumann, Mendocino Voice, Willits, California: Adrian Fernandez Baumann is managing editor of The Mendocino Voice, which was started in September of 2016. His work has appeared in the Bloomberg Businessweek, the East Bay Express, AJ+, The Willits News, the Ukiah Daily Journal and other Northern California newspapers. He has also worked as a television producer for CNN. Before becoming a journalist he worked as a plumber, carpenter, waiter, fisherman, sheet metal fabricator, substitute teacher, census taker, English teacher, and once walked from Los Angeles to San Francisco. He graduated with a degree in Anthropology from UC Berkeley and attended Columbia Journalism School. He’ll be working with Kate Maxwell, who is the publisher and co-founder of The Mendocino Voice. She has worked as a reporter for four years in both print and radio, for local and national media outlets. Her previous experience includes stints as co-owner and manager of a San Francisco bookstore, a historic archive developer, a public policy researcher, a community outreach specialist, and an ice cream truck driver. She attended Brown University and Reed College.

Andaiye Taylor, Brick City Live, Newark, New Jersey: Andaiye Taylor is founder and editor of BrickCityLive.com, a lifestyle-focused digital news publication covering Newark. Brick City Live won first place in the Independent Blog category in the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists’ 2017 Excellence in Journalism awards. Brick City also won the Sustainability Award in NJ News Commons' Excellence in Local News Awards for 2018. In addition to its publishing function, Brick City Live has grown to include a standalone mobile app, local ticketing platform and offer community- and small business focused advertising products. Andaiye earned a bachelor's degree in 2005 from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2012, Andaiye earned an M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University and won the Lars-Erik Nelson Prize for excellence in reporting and writing. She officially launched BrickCityLive.com on August 23, 2013.

In 2014, BrickCityLive.com became one of six member sites Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation's Local News Lab, and is an active member of Montclair State University's Center for Cooperative Media.

Andaiye's goal for Brick City Live is to continue growing the publication into a "small but mighty" and self-sustaining lifestyle, news and information outlet for Newark.

Dawn Shelton, Luther Register, Luther, Oklahoma: An infamous tussle at the town board that went viral, and a contentious school bond election were indicators that the small Oklahoma town Dawn Shelton had moved to was a news desert. The city TV stations and big newspaper raced out when something wild and negative happened and then raced away, leaving folks on social media to perpetuate misinformation. With experience in journalism, public relations, event planning, teaching and writing, Shelton returned to her first professional love of journalism and started The Luther Register in late 2015. She combines that work with her family’s new life on a small farm where they garden and keep chickens, pigs, a cow, a llama (and will have goats someday). She started attending meetings at Town Hall and the School Board, began calling elected officials, covering elections, breaking news, water and sewer rate hikes, zoning issues, local sports and, in between, telling the stories of Luther’s residents. Almost 700 stories later, The Luther Register is growing as a valued source of “news for our town.”

Jeff Wong, DC Commute Times, Arlington, Virginia: Jeff Wong started DC Commute Times in 2016 with a simple premise — write a tipsheet for people trying to commute in one of the most traffic-congested metropolitan areas in the country. After graduating from the University of Southern California in 1995, he was an Associated Press reporter and editor for five years. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he fought in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine infantry officer. In addition to his duties at DC Commute Times, he works as a consultant planning analytic wargames and exercises for Defense Department clients. He's originally from Los Angeles, another American city with sclerotic traffic.

Jiquanda Johnson, Flint Beat, Flint, Michigan: Jiquanda Johnson is the founder of Brown Impact Media Group, an independent publishing company developing hyper-local news outlets in underserved communities. That includes her hometown of Flint, where she serves as publisher and editor of FlintBeat.com, a hyperlocal news site.

Jiquanda has 17 years of experience in journalism. In the past, she has worked for MLive Media Group in Michigan, Fox 46 in North Carolina, NBC25's affiliate station in the Flint area, The Detroit News, the Flint Journal, Pull Magazine, and Tween Girl Style Magazine. She also has worked as public relations manager for Earth Fare grocery stores, community relations manager for National Heritage Academies and has been published in Between the Lines, African American Parent Magazine, the Seattle Times, eHow, the Detroit Free Press and Flintside.com.

This year, Jiquanda began developing News Movement, a news literacy program that is set to launch summer 2018 to teach Flint youth various journalism skills including writing, photography, graphic design and videography.

Matt Hennie, Project Q Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia: I'm a longtime journalist with 23 years experience in local media, including crime, public safety and education beats for a three-times-a-week paper in Gaffney, S.C. and a daily in Conyers, which is in suburban Atlanta. I've also served as editor at two LGBT weeklies, in Houston and Atlanta. In 2006, I went rogue to become a freelance writer for business publications in metro Atlanta. Two years later, in September 2008, I launched Project Q Atlanta, which is a digital media outlet covering LGBT news and events in the Atlanta market.

In June 2014, I took the Project Q model to Texas and launched Project Q Houston. That spin-off experiment shuttered two years later. In November 2017, I joined with two business partners to launch a separate company to publish Q – a glossy magazine that is a weekly print companion to Project Q – to capitalize on a changing LGBT media media market in Atlanta. I'm also the co-parent of three spoiled dogs – a 9-year-old Bluetick Coonhound, a 7-year-old mutt and 1-year-old Cockapoo. During basketball season, you'll find me wearing a must-see ensemble of black-and-white polyester as I referee high school basketball games across the Atlanta area.

Rob Chappell, Madison 365, Madison, Wisconsin: Associate publisher Robert Chappell began his professional journalism career at the age of 15, covering village government for the Mount Horeb Mail in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. He worked as editor of the Fennimore Times and associate editor of Madison Magazine. He later served Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton as communications director and has worked in strategic communications in nonprofit, arts and entertainment and local government sectors.

Robert serves on the Mt. Horeb Village Cable Commission and as Junior Warden at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church. He is also the father of four children of three different ethnicities.

Shereen Siewert, Wausau Pilot and Review, Wausau, Wisconsin: Shereen Siewert is the founder and publisher of Wausau Pilot and Review, a nonprofit, local, online news organization covering Wausau area issues. After many years as a freelance writer and a prominent local radio host, Shereen joined Gannett Wisconsin Media in 2012 and was named to the USA Today investigative team in 2014. She has written extensively about the criminal justice system, winning five Golden Gavel Awards from the State Bar of Wisconsin. Her most-read projects to date have delved into wrongful convictions, environmental issues, local government spending, child pornography investigations and active hate groups in the state. Based in Wausau, Shereen is also an active member of several community groups. She is a board member for the Marathon County Alcohol and Other Drug Council and is a past board member of the Wausau Symphony Orchestra and of the Wausau Area Montessori School Board. She holds a degree in journalism from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and is an MFA candidate in the creative writing program at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Tyree Worthy, Gentilly Messenger, New Orleans, Louisiana: Marketing/Sales Director Tyree C. Worthy joined the Uptown/Mid-City Messenger team in 2012, handling advertising inquiries, sales and social media management for both publications. Tyree is now the Publisher of the organization’s third site, Gentilly Messenger.

A New Orleans native, Tyree is a graduate of Loyola University New Orleans and a board member for the Greater Mid-City Business Association and Young Audiences of Louisiana.With his commitment to public service, Tyree’s mission is to use the news sites to encourage local commerce and promote business  development, strengthening the city of New Orleans each neighborhood at a time.

Tasneem Raja, The Tyler Loop, Tyler, Texas: Tasneem Raja is a writer and journalist who in 2017 founded The Tyler Loop, a “small batch” hyperlocal digital newsmagazine that focuses on policy, history, and demographics in East Texas. A former senior editor at NPR, she launched a popular podcast exploring issues of identity and race with NPR's Code Switch team. She also has written for The New Yorker Online, the Atlantic, Mother Jones, and other national outlets. At Mother Jones, she specialized in data visualization and was part of a team that compiled the first database of mass shootings in America. She's a pioneer in the field of data-driven digital storytelling, a frequent speaker on issues of inclusion and diversity in the workplace, and a die-hard fan of alt weeklies, where she got her start as a local reporter. She lives in Tyler with her husband, her stepson, and two imperious terriers.