Why I’m launching my own news business in 2023

“If it’s broke, don’t fix it. Build something new instead.”

Since joining LION’s staff two years ago, I’ve encouraged journalists who are fed up with the bloodletting, cost-cutting, video-pivoting, and slogan-slinging in corporate media to give up on reforming those broken institutions and launch their own news businesses. 

Now I’m ready to follow that advice myself. 

Next month I’ll be leaving my full-time role (and amazing colleagues) at LION to pursue a pair of entrepreneurial ventures, including a niche local news business. 

I’ll continue to write this newsletter as a contractor for the next few months, so I’ll be able to share what I’m messing up, getting right, and learning along the way. 

But for now I want to explain why I’ve chosen this path – and why one of my first steps will be joining LION as a member

So, why launch a news business in 2023 when economists are predicting a recession and media layoffs are deepening?

For me, it’s pretty simple: I’ve spent the last two years learning and writing about LION members who are launching products, taking risks, and overcoming economic headwinds to build and grow their businesses, and I’ve been inspired by their success. 

A development-focused news site in Boise. A neighborhood news nonprofit with 19,000 paying members in Chicago. Not one but two growing local news startups in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and another two in Memphis, Tennessee.  

These businesses aren’t the darlings of the venture capital world (which chose to pour millions into businesses that are now laying off reporters or going under.) 

Instead, they’re part of an emerging local news ecosystem where “niche” is a feature, not a bug, and a community’s civic information health is supported by dozens of independent publications, not a single, floundering legacy newspaper. 

VC investors will shudder at the thought of this more distributed future for local news and what it will mean for their “unicorn” ambitions, but their success is not our success, and their struggles needn’t be our struggles. 

Hundreds of independent publishers are proving this decoupling to be true – which brings me back to LION and why I’m so committed to becoming a member. 

For the future of local news to be independent, we need more people to take the leap and launch their own independent news business. 

And for that to happen at scale, the industry not only needs more individual success stories; it needs a better shared understanding of what it takes to build a sustainable local news business.

My colleagues at LION are doing incredible work to piece together and spread that shared understanding, and I see membership as a way to both benefit from their expertise and contribute to it along the way.

So if you haven’t become a LION member yet, I hope you’ll join me. And to all the current LION members, thank you so much for all your insights and inspiration

You’ve given me the courage to get started, and I’ll do everything I can to pay that forward. 

– Ben DeJarnette, LION communications manager

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12 opportunities for independent publishers

1. Earn revenue from elections coverage. Ballotpedia is piloting a new program to help publishers level up their voter guide and build a strategy to monetize it. Learn more and apply» (Sponsored)

2. Enter your best investigative journalism in the Bingham & Taylor Awards competition for an opportunity to win a $20,000 cash prize. (Deadline: Tomorrow) 

3. Get funding for an investigative reporting project. The Fund for Investigative Journalism will award grants up to $10,000 to cover the expenses of stories that break new ground and uncover wrongdoing in the public or private sectors. (Deadline: January 30) 

4. Take a research sabbatical. Apply for a JSK Fellowship (Deadline: January 25) or Nieman Fellowship (Deadline: January 31). 

5. Earn more revenue from philanthropy. Register for the virtual 2023 Lenfest News Philanthropy Summit. (January 31–February 1). 

6. Create a resource for journalists and newsrooms. The RJI Fellowship is an eight-month program that offers fellows funding and support to build a resource that’s free, accessible and open-source. (Deadline: February 3)

7. Launch or grow a news product. The Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program will help participants build, grow and monetize a niche newsletter, site or podcast in 100 days. (Deadline: February 3)

8. Bring your small business tax questions to this AMA webinar with a licensed tax professional. (February 9)

9. Get funding to launch a nonprofit newsroom. The American Journalism Project’s Local News Incubator will offer four founders 18 months of support and $400,000 in seed funding. (Deadline: February 15) 

10. Join a leadership program for BIPOC journalists. The Leadership Academy for Diversity in Media is a one-week, in-person program at Poynter’s campus in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Deadline: February 17)

11. Protect your business with liability insurance. The Institute for Nonprofit News explains why media liability insurance is so important for independent publishers and how to get coverage through its preferred provider as an INN or LION member. (U.S.-based LION members can also apply for liability insurance through LION’s preferred provider program with InSource. Hooray for options!)

12. Get better at measuring your impact with help from this free impact tracking tool created by Impact Architects and this audience impact tracking guide from the Solutions Journalism Network. 

What we’re reading

Million dollar creator. How a YouTuber earned a combined $4.6 million last year from 12 revenue streams. (Simon Owens’s Media Newsletter)

Boom and bust. Why the number of newly launched podcasts has dropped 80 percent since 2020. (The Verge)

Herd mentality. Why all the supposedly innovative national news startups end up looking and sounding exactly the same. (DAME)

Bot knots. Why differentiation – not optimization – will be the key to success for media businesses in an AI world. (The Rebooting)

Newsletter resolutions. How to take your email newsletter to the next level in 2023. (Inbox Collective)

LIONs in the news

The Kansas City Defender proved to be more credible than the local police department again this month when it shared reports of missing Black women in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, that the police initially called “completely unfounded.”

Less than two weeks later, a missing woman appeared after escaping her kidnapper, who is accused of detaining, raping and assaulting her for more than a month.    

Capital B talked with The Kansas City Defender founder Ryan Sorrell about reporting the story, trusting community members, and forcing a reckoning among local journalists.  

Kansas City Police Dismissed a Black News Site’s Reports of Missing Women. Then One Showed Up.
A 40-year-old white man was charged with kidnapping, rape, and assault when a 22-year-old Black woman said he held her captive for over a month.
Kansas City Police Dismissed a Black News Site’s Reports of Missing Women. Then One Showed Up.
A 40-year-old white man was charged with kidnapping, rape, and assault when a 22-year-old Black woman said he held her captive for over a month.

In other LION member news…

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