😨 How to prepare for a recession

It’s high time that we talk about one of the biggest risks facing independent news businesses in 2023: an economic recession. 

The conventional wisdom is that we’re less than a year away from at least a mild recession – and even if you’re more optimistic about the direction of the global economy as a whole, there are already signs that the media and tech sectors could be in the midst of a downturn.  

So what can your news business do to prepare for hard times? Here are a few tips, observations and resources to help you keep your organization on strong footing:

1. Diversify your revenue streams, especially if you rely heavily on advertising. 

Advertising spending is often one of the first things to get cut when businesses are uncertain about the economy, as we saw in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic

If the majority of your revenue comes from ads, you’re likely to feel the squeeze as local businesses tighten their belts – and it might be a good time to explore a reader revenue strategy or other ways to make money that are less closely tied to the state of the economy. 

Need help choosing a revenue path? The LION News Entrepreneur Academy includes courses for LION members on creating a revenue growth plan and assessing growth opportunities, and the Membership Guide is a great primer on how to start a newsroom membership program. 

2. Build advertising products that align with shifting customer needs.

Even if overall advertising spending falls during a recession, there will still be opportunities to win new customers or keep existing ones spending with you. 

For example, digital advertising showed more strength than print or radio during the pandemic, and there’s evidence that ad dollars are already moving away from brand campaigns this year and toward products with more immediate ROI, such as email newsletters

Both of those trends are good news for independent local publishers, especially those with a clear value proposition for their ad products and a willingness to experiment with new formats. 

3. Make the case for why you need support. 

Independent news organizations have seen reader revenue surge twice in the last decade: first when Donald Trump was elected president and most recently during the early months of the pandemic

In other words, readers are more likely to support local news when they think it’s under threat by political or economic forces – and a recession would certainly qualify. 

But what if a recession is limited to the media and tech industries and most readers aren’t feeling it? That’s when your messaging will make all the difference, and a little transparency may go a long way to helping your audience understand why you need their support.

4. Learn from your peers. 

LION members have made it through downturns big and small, and one of them will be sharing what he’s learned along the way about recession-proofing a news business. 

Join Richland Source president Jay Allred on April 26 for a members-only meetup to discuss how to prepare for a possible economic recession. 

Attendees will get a chance to ask questions and participate in a breakout session to hear how other news publishers are handling the economic uncertainty.

– Ben DeJarnette, newsletter writer, and the LION team

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11 ways to build a stronger news business

We’re less than a month away from The Deep South News Sustainability Meetup in Jackson, Mississippi – the first of two regionally-focused events that LION will host for our members and other independent news publishers this year. 

Registration is now open for the event on May 18, which will focus on connecting and supporting publishers based in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia, as well as Tennessee, Arkansas and North Florida. 

P.S. LION members, don’t forget to register for our Quarterly Member Meeting on May 3 to learn about upcoming LION programs, recent industry insights, and new membership benefits while connecting with fellow members.

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

1. Talk newsletter growth, partnerships and revenue with other publishers at this ONA Newsletter Professionals Meetup. (TODAY)

2. 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)

3. 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)

4. 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)

5. Start building a paid marketing strategy at this one-hour webinar on how to define your target audience and reach them with effective ad campaigns. (May 2)

6. Write a business plan and stick to it with help from this SCORE webinar during National Small Business Week. (May 2)

7. Apply for ONA’s Online Journalism Awards. Entries open today for the 2023 Online Journalism Awards, which offer up to $57,000 in prize money. (Deadline: May 25)

8. Save the date for Durham. Our Southeast News Sustainability Meetup in Durham, North Carolina, will also host the 2023 LION Local Journalism Awards Ceremony. (October 3-4)

9. Find journalism awards and grant opportunities in the NewsFuel database

10. Prepare to use artificial intelligence in your newsroom. Wonder Tools wrote a review of the AI feature coming soon to Google Docs, the Center for Cooperative Media wrote a handbook on using ChatGPT for local news, and Trusting News shared tips for how to disclose your AI policies to readers

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.

What we’re reading

Donation drives. How Jacksonville Today convinced 5 percent of its newsletter readers to make a donation. (Better News)

Social shuffle. How publishers are rethinking their social media strategies as Twitter scuffles and Facebook backs away from news. (American Press Institute)

Overdue automation. Why journalists should embrace A.I. applications that take the most mind-numbing writing assignments off our plates. (Slate)

Mixed reviews. The case for (and against) Substack Notes becoming a better alternative to Twitter. (Vanity Fair)

Ecosystem map. Our Project Oasis database now has a European counterpart that’s full of insights into the independent media landscape in Europe. (Google News Initiative)

LIONs in the news

Happy birthday to LION members Range Media and Asheville Watchdog, which both turn three years old this month! 

Celebrating a milestone of your own? Email [email protected] to let us know about it so we can feature you here in the LION newsletter. 🥳

In other LION member news…

BikePortland is partnering with a local brewery to host weekly happy hours on a bike-friendly street in Portland. 

Cityside is hiring a director of people to recruit and support employees. The nonprofit’s management also announced that it will voluntarily recognize a union in the newsroom.

MLK50 editor Wendi C. Thomas has won the 2023 I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence

New York Focus is hiring an audience engagement editor and a Capitol reporter.

How to reach us

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