💡7 insights into the Canadian independent news ecosystem

Over the past 25 years, the Canadian news market has experienced many exogenous trends similar to those in the United States — rapid advances and adoption of digital technology and platforms, a decline in advertising revenue, and significant contractions at community newspapers through layoffs and closures. And, as we’re seeing in the U.S., local independent media is trying to fill these gaps and better serve audiences who have often been overlooked.

While we still need more research into Canada’s burgeoning local independent media ecosystem, with help from a partnership with the Google News Initiative, LION has started this work by compiling a list of 270 publications that are independent, digitally dominant and serving a geographically-based community or single-subject topic. We’ve added these Canadian publications to our Project Oasis database, and anticipate updating this list as we identify more. 

We’re also sharing what we’ve learned so far about the country’s local news trends and the challenges these publishers face. It’s our first step to understanding Canada’s ecosystem and how we, and others wanting to support strong democracies in communities across Canada, can support its development. Here are a few insights from our research:

  • Most publications are based in Ontario
  • There’s a fairly even split between publications serving rural and urban communities
  • Most independent news publications were founded in the last 10 years
  • Independent news publications have more diverse leadership teams than the industry average
  • Most publications serve English-speaking audiences
  • Generating revenue is the top concern for Canadian independent news publications
  • The federal government plays a role in publications’ sustainability

Read more about local news trends in Canada, insights into Canadian independent news publications, and our next steps.

– Julie Sobowale, LION’s membership research consultant 

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Meet the 36 organizations selected for our Sustainability Lab: Unblocking Revenue Barriers

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.

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. 

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

You can learn more about each organization here.

Congratulations to our participants! We can’t wait to see what you accomplish after completing the program. 

– Elaine Díaz, LION’s senior manager of coaching

12 resources for independent publishers

1. Apply for The New York Times’ Local Investigations Fellowship. Fellows will be paid to spend a year producing signature investigative work focused on their state or region that will be published by The Times. (Apply by Sept. 1)

2. Pitch your proposal. The Fund for Investigative Journalism is accepting proposals for grants of up to $10,000 for investigative journalism stories that break new ground and uncover wrongdoing in the public or private sectors. (Apply by Sept. 5)

3. Hone your spreadsheet and budgeting skills with free capacity-building community sessions presented by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. (Starts on Sept. 7)

4. Apply for CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism’s Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program, a new online program for independent journalists developing niche news products. (Apply by Sept. 8)

5. Attend ProJourn’s Texas Open Records Virtual Legal Workshop, a free workshop that provides an overview of Texas Public Records Laws and explains how to use these laws to access information that is vital to your reporting. (Sept. 12)

6. Attend ProJourn’s Pre-Publication Review Virtual Legal Workshop, a free workshop that provides tips on assessing and mitigating potential legal risks posed by a story. (Sept. 14)

7. Become a Democracy Day partner. Produce at least one story or piece of content about the U.S. democracy crisis, or if you’re not with a newsroom, promote the initiative to your networks. (Sept. 15)

8. Apply for The Lenfest Institute’s Philadelphia Local News Sustainability Initiative. This grant program provides core operating support and capacity-building funding to news organizations in the Philadelphia region. (Apply by Sept. 15)

9. Snag a “seed” grant for early reporting. The Fund for Investigative Journalism is offering grants from $1,000 to $2,500 for preliminary reporting on specific projects. (Apply by Sept. 15)

10. Attend Radically Rural’s 6th Annual Summit in Keene, New Hampshire to learn about strategic opportunities for transformation in rural communities. (Sept. 27-28)

11. Attend our Southeast News Sustainability Meetup. This regional event in Durham, North Carolina, features a keynote presentation, breakout sessions, roundtable discussions, and networking breaks, as well as the 2023 LION Local Journalism Awards Ceremony. (Room-block rate ends on Sept.7; the event is on Oct. 3-4)

12. Get your grant writing on. Participate in Community Grantwriters’ “A Map to Successful Grantwriting,” a virtual, three-week program on successful grant writing. (Starts on Oct. 4)

What we’re reading

Pitch perfect. How to make a strong pitch using this tried-and-tested four-step framework. (Harvard Business Review)

Access for all. How newsroom-library partnerships pull together collective resources and represent the best of community crowdsourcing. (Nieman Lab)

Quality > Quantity. How three news leaders are testing the theory that the future of digital-only local media will be “small, focused and based on email.” (Press Gazette)

Increased interest. Why addressing potential conflicts of interest will be crucial to maintaining trust as philanthropic journalism funding continues to increase. (Media Impact Funders)

LIONs in the news

Shauna Rae, founder of the “Clearing a New Path” podcast, once avoided looking at her finances for fear of finding something she didn’t want to see. But avoidance isn’t the norm for someone like Shauna, whose podcast focuses on complex race and justice issues. So what is it about finances that make even the most competent leaders hesitate? For Shauna, it was an incomplete understanding of where the money was going and how that impacted her ability to produce the most meaningful work. 

But recently, she decided to build a robust budget and, in the process, uncovered practices that weren’t supporting her business. That inspired her to put several plans in place to build upon her findings, including developing a media kit and launching a members-only newsletter. This created a ripple effect, which resulted in her securing a $20,000 sponsor. Her willingness to venture into unknown territory produced tangible results, and she’s still reaping the benefits. You can get inspired by her success story here

Curious to learn more about budgeting best practices and how they can transform your business? Check out our News Entrepreneur Academy, a training resource that offers courses in how to budget, among other topics.

Taking Control of Finances Through Budgeting and Forecasting
How the founder of the Clearing a New Path podcast gained confidence managing money.
Taking Control of Finances Through Budgeting and Forecasting
How the founder of the Clearing a New Path podcast gained confidence managing money.

In other LION member news:

  • Bay City News Foundation, BenitoLink, Coachella Valley Independent, El Tímpano, Fresnoland, inewsource, Long Beach Post, Mission Local, San Francisco Public Press, San José Spotlight, Santa Cruz Local, The Oaklandside, and The Sacramento Observer have been selected to participate in UC Berkeley’s inaugural California Local News Fellowship program. The program is a multi-year, state-funded initiative to support and strengthen local news reporting in California, with a focus on underserved communities. 
  • Arizona Luminaria, Cardinal News, EdSource, Flatwater Free Press, Mission Local, New Mexico In Depth, Open Vallejo, Planet Detroit, Resolve Philly, Sahan Journal, San Francisco Public Press, Spotlight PA, The Appeal, The Connecticut Mirror, The Kansas City Defender, The Texas Tribune, and Wisconsin Watch have been recognized as winners in various categories for the Institute for Nonprofit News’ third annual Nonprofit News Awards
  • Borderless Magazine won the Online News Association’s Gather Award in Community-Centered Journalism, Overall Excellence, Micro/Small Newsroom. They successfully experimented with using field canvassers to better understand and serve their Spanish-speaking audiences.
  • AfroLA’s Dana Amihere, The Art Rebellion’s Makeda Easter, and The Bowie Sun’s Catherine Hollingsworth are among a group of journalists and faculty selected for the inaugural cohort for the Solutions Journalism HBCU/Black Press Academy + Lede Fellowship.
  • The Food Section’s Hanna Raskin was featured in Newsletter Circle’s “Creator Interview,” highlighting how she quickly built such a successful newsletter business.

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