📈 4 tips for building a sustainable news business

If there’s one thing that independent news publishers have in short supply, it’s capacity. Running a news business is a tall order for anyone, but that order hits giraffe-ian proportions when you’re running a lean organization where just a few people are doing work that would otherwise require many.

That’s why we designed the 2022 GNI Startups Labs as a quick-hit way for leaders to build capacity in targeted areas. By focusing on Managing Risk & Money, Building & Managing a Team and Planning for Revenue Growth, our aim was for publishers to use training, coaching and funding to shore up areas that we know have an outsized impact on increasing sustainability.

You can read all about the program in our 2022 GNI Startups Labs Report, which includes:

  • Why and how we designed the program
  • Participant information 
  • Curriculum details
  • 15 case studies outlining progress and best practices

At LION, we’re working to expand our support to even more of our 450 members. But we also understand that not everyone is able to participate in a program. 

So in the spirit of offering an abridged version of what participants learned, here are four high-level takeaways that every publisher can use.

– Lisa Heyamoto, programming director of membership education, and the LION team

18 resources for independent publishers

The GNI Startups Lab is just one of the ways that LION supports independent news publishers. Here’s what else we have coming up:

In-person events

In 2023, LION will host two regionally-focused events as we experiment with how to help our members form more local connections and support networks:

We expect to host another larger-scale conference focused on news business sustainability in 2024. 

Virtual meetups

  • Recession-proofing your business. LION members can join Richland Source president Jay Allred to discuss how to prepare their businesses for a possible economic recession. (April 26)

Fiscal sponsorship 

We’re thrilled to announce a new membership benefit: discounted fiscal sponsorship through Tiny News Collective, which provides tools, resources and expertise to help communities build sustainable news organizations.  

LION members can apply here for fiscal sponsorship through Tiny News Collective. If you are not yet a LION member, you can learn about LION’s membership criteria and apply to join.

Job opportunities

We’re hiring our next community engagement manager at LION, and we’re also looking for 11 industry experts to serve as this year’s Sustainability Audit analysts.

Our ideal Audit analyst is someone who:

  • Has deep experience running or working with independent news startups 
  • Is eager to share their knowledge, skills and advice with LION members
  • Would enjoy the opportunity to learn about and learn from independent news program participants 
  • Is comfortable making recommendations that range from big picture strategic thinking to specific tactical approaches, but knows they don’t need to be an expert in everything and can curate the LION community, industry knowledge and their networks to help publications prioritize

The deadline to apply for this part-time contractor role is April 26. 

What else is on our radar

Now here are 11 other resources and opportunities for independent publishers:

1. Get advice for managing your organizational cash in light of recent banking crises. This one-hour webinar will go over the top strategies and investment options to protect against bank failures. (April 14)

2. Enter a profile story in a national contest. Narratively is seeking surprising, awe-inspiring stories about one-of-a-kind people or groups for its 2023 Profile Prize. The submissions must be original, unpublished work. (Deadline: April 14) 

3. Learn how to partner with a local college or university at one of six training and organization sessions around the U.S. (April 14 – August 6)

4. Talk newsletter growth, partnerships and revenue with other publishers at this ONA Newsletter Professionals Meetup. (April 20)

5. Find funders for your reporting. The LMA Lab for Journalism Funding will help publishers learn how to develop reporting projects that can be funded through philanthropy. (Deadline: April 23)

6. Register for the News Product Alliance Summit. This virtual conference brings product thinkers together to share ideas, co-create best practices for the news industry and learn new product skills. (April 26-28)

7. Earn a fellowship for early-career digital journalists. ONA’s MJ Bear Fellowship identifies and supports digital journalists under 30 whose work represents the best of digital news. (Deadline: April 27)

8. Start a paid marketing strategy with help from this one-hour webinar on how to define your target audience and reach them with effective ad campaigns. 

9. Help lobby for more funding to support local news. The Rebuild Local News Coalition is working to make news publishers eligible for funding from the Digital Equity Act, and you can help by completing this short survey

10. Borrow this trust-building idea. This Trusting News guide can help you explain coverage decisions to your audience and demystify the editorial process. 

11. Get support implementing Google Analytics 4. The Google News Initiative is offering monthly webinars and individual office hours to help publishers migrate to GA4. 

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What we’re reading

Paying for news. What publishers can learn from the news outlets doing the best job converting readers to paying subscribers. (Press Gazette)

Newsletter news. Why email newsletter businesses are less likely to lose advertising revenue even if the economy slumps. (Digiday)

Podcast to vodcast. Why more independent publishers are choosing to put their podcasts on YouTube. (Nieman Lab)

Tech tools. How a Substack newsletter writer built out a bigger tech stack to support their business operations. (The Entrepreneur’s Tech Stack)

Missing middle. Why middle managers are so important to growing organizations, especially in a time of remote work. (Harvard Business Review)

LIONs in the news

The Fund for Investigative Journalism announced 30 new grants in 18 states last week, and the list of grantees includes three LION members!

Congratulations to Arizona Luminaria, The Kansas City Defender, New York Focus and Open Vallejo for earning grants in this cycle. 

The next deadline to apply for Fund for Investigative Journalism grants is May 1. 

How journalists in Hawaii are covering (and coping with) the Maui wildfires – Poynter
‘We’re going to be here for the long haul, so we have a huge task in front of us.’ Journalists in Hawaii spoke with Poynter about covering the Maui wildfires.
How journalists in Hawaii are covering (and coping with) the Maui wildfires – Poynter
‘We’re going to be here for the long haul, so we have a huge task in front of us.’ Journalists in Hawaii spoke with Poynter about covering the Maui wildfires.

In other LION member news…

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