🔥 6 year-end tips from independent news experts

At LION Publishers, we’re on a mission to revolutionize the local news industry by empowering independent news publishers to build sustainable businesses. 

And we can’t fulfill this mission alone.

In fact, we collaborate with some of the smartest people in media to help move our members forward. This year, we had the privilege of working with dozens of industry experts in our programs, including the increasingly popular Sustainability Audits, a new Sustainability Lab: Unblocking Revenue Barriers, and the Revenue Growth Fellowship, just to name a few. These leaders served as coaches, analysts, and even LION Local Journalism Awards judges. 

We couldn’t do this work without their support –– and for our last newsletter of 2023, we asked a handful of them to share a piece of advice for publishers going into the new year. Here’s what they said:

📅 “Schedule one January meeting before you shut down for the holidays with a potential partner –– whether it’s another news outlet, a library, or a community nonprofit –– to explore how you might work together in 2024 to grow the impact of your journalism and serve more community members.” – Ashley Woods Branch, independent consultant

✅ “Whenever you’re not sure what to do next, survey your audience. The wisdom of the crowd will often guide you to the right answer.” – Dan Oshinsky, Inbox Collective

👀 “Set aside one to two hours each week to look outside your publication, seek new resources, and learn about the business of media. This may seem like a luxury in the midst of multiple deadlines, but there are tangible benefits to blocking this time. Local news, by nature, is restricted in scope. By dedicating this time to looking elsewhere, you seek external resources –– such as LION’s online courses, new grant and partnership opportunities, best practice guides, or peer publications outside your region. Most importantly, this will enable you to zoom out and plan for your publication’s long-term future.” – Shira T. Center, Boston Globe Media

📊 “Audiences have so much choice for where to dedicate their attention, so it’s critical to focus on the unique value proposition you offer: What do you do more effectively than anyone else? Measure what your audiences value through analytics or audience surveying –– and then be obsessed with delivering it to them every day.” – Dan Petty, ProPublica

🌟 “Keep your mission front and center, not just as website dressing but as a tool for prioritization. If a new initiative is going to help you further your mission, that’s a positive indication you should go for it (or at least explore its operational and financial feasibility). And on the flip side, regrounding in your organization’s mission can help you say no to things that represent a detour off your mission-critical path.” – Bene Cipolla, organizational consultant

💯 “Remind your readers that the news you report is critical and can’t be found elsewhere. Then ask them for support –– over and over!” – Frances Dinkelspiel, formerly of Berkeleyside and Cityside

We hope this leaves you with a little inspiration to close out the year, and we look forward to sharing more small business tips, funding opportunities, and other resources for independent news publishers in 2024. But for now, we’re heading into our winter break and will be back in your inbox on January 4.

Wishing you a peaceful, restful holiday season!

– The LION team

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5 resources for independent publishers

1. Expand your knowledge of AI. The Upgrade is offering 30 percent off two cohort-based classes for LION members taught by UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism lecturer Peter Bittner. AI Fundamentals and AI Boost are perfect for small newsrooms and news entrepreneurs. Contact Hayley at hayleymilloy@lionpublishers for the member discount code. 

2. Snag a journalism scholarship. The National Press Club and the Journalism Institute are currently accepting applications for various student scholarships. Opportunities are available for high school, college, and graduate students. (Application deadlines vary)

3. Take time to care. Discover how care can be prioritized in your life, journalism, and institution with this new zine from the Care Collaboratory.

4. Save the date for LION’s Independent News Sustainability Summit. Mark your calendar for September 5-7, 2024, to attend our Summit, which aims to gather 500 independent news leaders for three days of learning and connection. Tickets will be available in January.

5. Get advice on launching a newsletter. Read Inbox Collective’s roundup of what 20 newsletter operators had to say about their experience launching a newsletter.

What we’re reading

(Nieman Lab Predictions edition)

“If there’s an audience, it’s news.” Why it’s time to broaden the scope of what’s considered newsworthy, especially if outlets want to attract younger audiences. (Kendall Trammell, Nieman Lab)

“Scale is a trap.” Why “going niche” and serving that audience exceptionally well should serve you (and your readers) better than trying to needlessly scale. (Ernie Smith, Nieman Lab)

“While both invoke “AI,” they have significant differences.” Why journalistic coverage of AI that doesn’t refer specifically to generative AI or AGI spreads misinformation. (Jonas Kaiser, Nieman Lab)

“It’s time to hold our business executives accountable.” Why business executives often fail to monetize successful journalism products and don’t pay the price. (Robert Hernandez, Nieman Lab)

“A year of consolidation in nonprofit news.” Many nonprofit news organizations struggle with limited resources, hindering their ability to employ full-time staff dedicated to essential business functions such as marketing, product development, technology integration, human resources, finance, accounting, and revenue generation. Combining solves that. (Paul Cheung, Nieman Lab – borne out by this merger, with Mother Jones joining forces with Reveal: The Center for Investigative Reporting)

LIONs in the news

We’re ending the year on a major member win. 

This week, the MacArthur Foundation announced its first set of grants to support Press Forward, a national coalition of donors that aims to reshape the local news landscape. This set includes direct support for eight local newsrooms –– seven of which are LION members.

Congratulations to Charlottesville Tomorrow, Conecta Arizona, Documented, El Tímpano, Enlace Latino NC, Mississippi Free Press, and Outlier Media! These newsrooms engage in sustained, deep community listening and explore innovative ways to reach their audiences. Together, they represent a $3.4 million investment in local news.

Find out more about Press Forward’s first commitment.

$48 Million in Support of Local News, Initial Seeding of Press Forward Collaborative
The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, we work to defend…
$48 Million in Support of Local News, Initial Seeding of Press Forward Collaborative
The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, we work to defend…

In other LION member news:

  • The Xylom received a shoutout in this Nieman Lab prediction about the future of science journalism. 
  • The Kansas City Defender is hiring a director of development & revenue to spearhead its philanthropic and commercial revenue streams. 
  • Richland Source’s Jay Allred is featured in a Q&A article with the 2023 State of Local News Report’s George Stanley, discussing how revenue diversification has led to the Source’s success.
  • Planet Priceton’s Krystal Knapp has been selected for the Google News Initiative’s 2023 Pre-Launch Lab cohort to launch a new statewide enterprise, The Jersey Vindicator.
  • Congratulations to Kimberly Spencer, a LION coach and the director of donor relations at The Pivot Fund, who has joined BlueLena as a strategic advisor.

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