These 12 LION members will receive funding and training for a new hire focused on generating revenue

Meet the first cohort for the LION-Facebook Revenue Growth Fellowship

August 26, 2021 by Lisa Heyamoto

Revenue Growth Fellowship cohort logos

It’s a classic chicken-or-egg problem — news businesses need revenue to start hiring people, but how can they earn that revenue without hiring someone to generate it?

That conundrum is why we launched the LION-Facebook Revenue Growth Fellowship. Open exclusively to LION Publishers members and funded by the Facebook Journalism Project, the program provides independent news businesses with the funding they need to hire someone focused squarely on revenue growth. Nearly a third of our members applied for this program, underscoring the huge need for this type of support. 

We’re committed to sharing what we learn with all LION members (more on that below), but first, we’re thrilled to announce the first 12 LION members who will receive funding to hire a Revenue Growth Fellow. 

These publishers were selected by a panel of independent, external judges based on an extensive application process and LION’s Sustainability Audit, which took a deep dive into their news business’ key metrics of success across journalistic impact, operational resilience and financial health. Each will soon hire a full-time or part-time employee, with the goal of making those positions self-sustaining within two years. The ultimate goal? Create and execute a revenue plan that puts the news organization on the path to long-term sustainability. 

Meet the inaugural LION-Facebook Revenue Growth Fellowship cohort 

Dallas Free Press

Based in: Dallas, Texas 

How they define sustainability for their organization: “Sustainability means we can build a team, and equitably pay them, to report on local issues and tell stories for, and with, two of Dallas’ disinvested neighborhoods: South Dallas and West Dallas. Success means that our audiences — the residents of these neighborhoods — will be informed and civically engaged because they know they are seen and heard and believe that their voices matter, and we are working together to press toward solutions to the systemic inequities they deal with on a daily basis.”

Revenue stream they want to prioritize: Major donors 

Detour Media 

Based in: Detroit, Michigan 

How they define sustainability for their organization:”We are sustainable as a news organization when we treat our team with respect and prepare them to succeed professionally, inside or outside of journalism. We are sustainable when we empower our staff to grow their skills, work autonomously and confidently imagine the next steps for our business. We are sustainable by aligning our editorial and revenue strategies to achieve our mission and serve readers who have been ignored or overlooked by legacy media publications.

This isn’t an orthodox definition of sustainability, because we’re not an orthodox news organization. We are committed to our success while also helping build and strengthen the independent news ecosystem in Detroit. We believe that the corporate-owned publications will operate with a skeleton staff or be closed entirely within a decade. We are building purposefully, hand-in-hand, to prepare for that future.”

Revenue stream they want to prioritize: Advertising 

El Tímpano 

Based in: Oakland, California 

How they define sustainability for their organization: “Achieving sustainability for El Tímpano will look like: 

  • Having the resources—including a team of full-time staff members—to develop, sustain, iterate, and expand impactful community-driven approaches to local news that are designed to inform, engage, and amplify the voices of Oakland’s Latino and Mayan immigrants.
  • Having a team that reflects the diversity of the communities we serve, and fosters a culture of trust, belonging, equity, collaboration, and innovation. El Tímpano will support the personal and professional well-being of its team by paying a good wage and benefits to employees and providing opportunities for growth. 
  • Distributing leadership responsibilities across a diverse leadership team so that El Tímpano’s sustainability does not rely on a single person.
  • Receiving funding from a large and diverse range of sources and revenue streams, providing resilience against the vicissitudes of the economy and philanthropic trends.” 

Revenue stream they want to prioritize: Major donors 

Fort Worth Report 

Based in: Fort Worth, Texas 

How they define sustainability for their organization: “We define sustainability in three buckets: financial, readership/journalism, and organizational, all interconnected. Financially, our three-year business plan calls for us to generate $2 million annually by year three; this would support a newsroom of approximately 18, plus staff devoted to membership and revenue. We believe this staff would have the depth to create impactful journalism to retain loyal readers, and the funding and readership would give our organization the stability to retain talented journalists and revenue leaders. A strong newsletter subscriber base would also translate to additional member revenue, as we anticipate 8-10% of our newsletter recipients will be converted into donors. Even at that level, we anticipate that we will require strong revenue streams from foundations, major donors, events and corporate sponsorship/affinity marketing to reach our funding goals. By continuing to build and retain a talented team to develop strong content that resonates with readers, we can meet our ambitious revenue goals and build a sustainable, successful news organization.”

Revenue stream they want to prioritize: Advertising 

Green Philly

Based in: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 

How they define sustainability for their organization: “For Green Philly, sustainability is what drives our passion, is embedded in our business and reflects our values. Our mission is to make sustainability accessible, low-cost, and equitable for the greater Philadelphia region. As a triple bottom line business, we consider how our business affects people, the planet and profit, both internally and externally. We prioritize working with small and local businesses instead of corporations, paying competitive rates, and making decisions to lessen our environmental impact. Our company has grown because our readers and sponsors trust that we live our business with our values first. We educate our readers on these principles and are committed to them as a company.”

Revenue stream they want to prioritize: Advertising 

Matter 

Based in: Columbus, Ohio 

How they define sustainability for their organization: “As a local, nonprofit, investigative, and community-informed news organization, our sustainability is heavily reliant on a strong small donor base. Success looks like building upon our achievements by tripling that donor base this year as we did last year. Our sustainability also hinges on diversifying our revenue sources. We have not had capacity to solicit large donors and earned income, so in the next year, success looks like putting in place infrastructure to achieve that. We have had limited success in gaining grant funding and intend to increase those efforts as well. Being a digital, Millennial-run news organization, online followings are crucial to sustainability, and success looks like quadrupling our web views and social followers next year, after tripling them last year.”

Revenue stream they want to prioritize: Reader revenue

Mississippi Free Press 

Based in: Jackson, Mississippi 

How they define sustainability for their organization: Sustainability means our budget increases to at least $500,000 over the next 6 months and then to at least $750,000 over the next three years, allowing us to hire additional team members, fund special projects, provide our team with better equipment while offering better pay and good benefits. The ideal mix of fundraising for the Mississippi Free Press is 60% donors, 30% percent foundation/grants support and 10% sponsorships.”  

Revenue stream they want to prioritize: Major donors 

Nuestro Estado 

Based in: Charleston, South Carolina 

How they define sustainability for their organization: “Sustainability for Nuestro Estado is having enough revenue to hire two or three full-time employees. Success for us means being able to increase our capacity to provide more news coverage across the Deep South for immigrant communities. Our goal is to be sustainable to continue our current work, while also having wiggle room to grow our impact by trying new methods of audience engagement.”

Revenue stream they want to prioritize: Advertising

Open Vallejo 

Based in: Oakland, California 

How they define sustainability for their organization: “Our primary measure of success is the journalistic impact we are having in our community of Vallejo, California. Our investigative work has contributed to the early departures of a police chief and a city attorney, upended a mayoral election, and sparked several official investigations, all of which we have accomplished with modest means. Open Vallejo will be sustainable once we have built a dedicated editorial team of several full-time reporters, as well as a full-time editor to support and guide them.  Informed California Foundation’s mission is to catalyze similar change in communities across California. This will require at least one additional full-time staff position to coordinate our statewide efforts, as well as additional editorial staff. Our projected annual revenue tripled in our second year of existence. Our goal is to continue this annual revenue tripling over the next five years. We see this as an achievable goal — and the full-time Revenue Growth Fellow as critical to reaching it.”

Revenue stream they want to prioritize: Major donors 

Range Media 

Based in: Spokane, Washington 

How they define sustainability for their organization: “We will have achieved baseline sustainability when we have found an audience and member revenue sufficient to support a core team of 3 to 4 people making journalism focused on the biggest issues in our region and supporting the most in-need among us. Audience-willing, we will grow beyond that, but even at that size, we believe we will be a formidable force for good.” 

Revenue stream they want to prioritize: Reader revenue 

Southerly 

Based in: Durham, North Carolina 

How they define sustainability for their organization: “We look at sustainability holistically. Through partnerships with newsrooms across the region, Southerly produces thoughtful and informative stories aimed at rural, BIPOC, and low-wealth audiences, and we work with non-journalism organizations including libraries, community organizations, and citizens’ groups, to ensure that information is accessible. Success is first knowing that we’re achieving those goals—that we’re helping people make decisions and take action, and we’re giving them resources they didn’t have before. But we’re also giving them beautiful storytelling they may not have seen themselves in until now, and helping newsrooms ensure their coverage of environmental issues is thoughtful, accurate, and useful. Success is showing how integral this service is, and that people who do the work should be paid in a way that reflects that. Success is being able to support fairly paid contributors and staff, with great salaries and benefits and plenty of time off to rest and enjoy the world around us. It is showing that journalism doesn’t have to always be so cutthroat and urgent and underpaid — that’s not how this should be done. We can change the status quo and shift the narrative not only about the South, but about journalism.”

Revenue stream they want to prioritize: Major donors 

The Haitian Times

Based in: Brooklyn, New York 

How they define sustainability for their organization: “Generating and securing enough revenue to employ a core group of 4-5 reporters, in addition to freelancers; securing revenue from 3-4 diverse streams in comparable amounts, significantly reducing dependence on one or two streams; growing the number of followers to six-figure size across all platforms, so that we can leverage our audience to charge a competitive CPM and generate more revenue; developing a robust video team and creating content for our website and social media platforms; holding our virtual event series once a week instead of once a month and generating revenue from such events, having a staffer dedicated to securing and managing sponsorships.”

Revenue stream they want to prioritize: Major donors

The big picture for member revenue support

The hardest part of launching a program like the Revenue Growth Fellowship is not being able to support all the qualified applicants right away. 

We know we’ll learn a lot from this pilot project, which will help inform the additional support we can offer our membership. In the meantime, here are a few other ways we’re continuing to help our members grow and diversify their revenue streams:

  • Inspiration from the News Guest podcast: Hosted by Outlier Media Executive Director Candice Fortman, News Guest features practical advice from founders on topics such as selling merchandise, converting newsletter subscribers to paying members and developing new revenue streams around civic partnerships. The podcast isn’t all about revenue (because true sustainability takes more than that), but there will be plenty of money talk in our upcoming monthly episodes.
  • Resources from the LION Operational Readiness Handbook: As part of the Revenue Growth Fellowship, we’re piloting a new operational readiness training program to ensure Revenue Growth Fellowship publishers have the strategic and operational infrastructure to hire, support and retain a Revenue Growth Fellow — and ultimately solidify their financial sustainability. As part of the training, we’re creating a resource handbook, which will be available to all LION members.

The Revenue Growth Fellowship was a response to a consistent challenge we heard from our members. Need something else from LION to support your growth as an independent news business? Reach out to [email protected] and let us know. 

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