These 16 news businesses will join our 2022 GNI Startups Labs on Building and Managing a Team

The cohort of publishers will focus on how to support their most important investment: their people.

October 5, 2022 by Andrew Rockway


We often hear from LION members that it’s difficult to make smart, strategic hires that help their organizations thrive as they grow beyond the capacity of the founders. Getting it right — knowing when and who to hire and how to manage them effectively — can be make-or-break for small news businesses.

That’s why we’re thrilled to announce the 16 publishers selected for this year’s 2022 GNI Startups Lab on Building and Managing a Team. The Building and Managing a Team Lab is the second of three GNI Startups Labs LION is hosting in partnership with Google News Initiative. Earlier this month, we announced the 16 news publishers taking part in the GNI Startups Lab on Managing Money and Risk. Training associated with both the Managing Money and Risk and Building and Managing a Team Labs is available to all LION members in the LION News Entrepreneur Academy.

These 16 publishers were selected from nearly 100 applicants in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, having demonstrated a commitment to learning and acting on best practices for hiring, managing and retaining employees and contributors as they seek to grow their organizations. 

The program will provide training, funding and coaching on:

  • Planning for team growth
  • Knowing when you can hire a new team member
  • Hiring a new team member
  • Onboarding a new hire
  • Developing key employment policies and processes
  • Addressing and avoiding burnout
  • HR best practices
  • Management best practices

“We are thrilled to continue partnering with LION to support such inspiring digital news entrepreneurs through these lab offerings,” said Conor Crowley, Head of GNI Startups Program. “The Google News Initiative works to strengthen the news industry globally in the digital age and that starts with developing a strong foundation of team-building.” 

The publishers will be supported by an incredible group of coaches: An Xiao (Ana) Mina, Bene Cipolla, Dick Tofel and Jennifer Mizgata (more information below).

Congratulations to all the participants!

Cabin Radio

Interest in the Lab: I have no formal business training and would like to hear from professionals in the industry about how I can better structure and grow my company.

Mission: Keep residents of the Northwest Territories informed and entertained.


Interest in the Lab: Our organization is growing quickly, and we’re so excited for this opportunity to learn about industry best practices for building a strong team!

Mission: We are a non-profit civic education organization building civic health through education, media and relationship building. We envision a Lexington in which all residents are able to meaningfully participate in the decisions that shape where they live.


Interest in the Lab: I’m new to managing people and I want to learn how to be an effective and supportive manager, especially as our team continues to grow!

Mission: Epicenter-NYC connects communities to news, information and each other. We listen and share tips across an array of platforms, from flyers, podcasts and newsletters, to vaccine drives and insider tours. Our on-the-ground ambassadors report, organize events and discover cool things across New York City and equip our neighbors with tools and knowledge to better their neighborhoods. We highlight artists and small businesses, culture and civic life. We believe all of us are in a position to give and get help. We are driven by the belief that together we can shape our neighborhoods, our city and our world. Because we live here too. We are based in Jackson Heights, Queens, which basically means the whole world meets in our neighborhood.

Excelsior Citizen

Interest in the Lab: We’ve identified several areas in which we could use additional help including sales/client relations and content creation. Participating in this program will help us determine which team members we need to add first in order to benefit both our organization and our community to the fullest.

Mission: Excelsior Citizen is a hyper-local community resource for Excelsior Springs, MO focused on solutions-based journalism. Our mission is to consistently and accurately report the daily news and to give details of events in the community, allowing our audience to become informed, engaged citizens. 

Hothouse Solutions  

Interest in the Lab: This program will help Hothouse streamline operations and identify highest priority actions, allowing us to focus our time on what we do best: produce high-impact and engaging journalism. Hothouse has already established audience traction, as well as identified cost-effective ways for acquiring new readers. Next, Hothouse is eager to learn and implement strategies to prevent burnout and build out a team of reporters to produce high-quality investigative journalism.

Mission: Hothouse publishes investigative reporting about climate solutions.

La Converse

Interest in the Lab: We believe this is the last piece of the puzzle to reach our goal of La Converse being a well-structured, established and recognized organization. We would like to better assess the performance of our new hires and hire people who are specifically qualified in Human Resources and Management as well as in Project Management, so it is essential that we grow our team with experts in these fields.

Mission: La Converse is a young, independent, francophone media organization based in Quebec, Canada and led by racialized women. The team is made up of journalists carrying marginalized identities. These backgrounds shape the way we approach journalism and the culture we create. We are committed to telling stories pertaining to marginalized communities and people who are not heard in a way that creates dialogue. 


Interest in the Lab: LebTown’s goal is providing living-wage (or better) jobs to Lebanon County journalists. What does a realistic staffing plan look like and what would it take to hire full-time employees for reporting, editing, and sales?

Mission: We’re here to help make Lebanon a better place.

Madison Minutes

Interest in the Lab: We’re now entering the second year of operations, and it’s time for us to scale up to meet our community’s needs.

Mission: We create useful news products that make life better for Madison area residents. 


Interest in the Lab: Funding programs for small news (as well as cultural or community) organizations are usually designed to support special projects or the development and implementation of digital tools. This is the first time that we’ve heard of a program offering support, training and funding for core organizational needs. At a time when investing in people is more important than ever, we needed this Lab.

Mission: Monquartier: your hyperlocal media, the news and life of Québec city’s inner city neighborhoods.

Prison Journalism Project

Interest in the Lab: We are a two-year-old startup that is just starting to receive major funding that allows us to build out our team. We’re looking to do this with intentional, best practices and processes. Much of the agenda of this lab has come up in internal discussions.

Mission: Prison Journalism Project (PJP) is an independent, national non-profit initiative that trains incarcerated writers to be journalists and publishes their stories. 

Southwest Contemporary

Interest in the Lab: As we grow our operations, and hopefully our team, I see an immediate need to improve our systems of project management for a dispersed team, and for me as a leader to better track my team members’ goals and performance. We are also tackling more complicated projects, both longer form journalism and larger events and membership campaigns, which will require running a tight, smooth operation. I see growth ahead, and I want to be ready for it!

Mission: Southwest Contemporary is the leading resource for contemporary arts and culture in the Southwest.

Taproot Publishing Inc. / Taproot Edmonton

Interest in the Lab: We made our first full-time hire in September 2020, and have worked with many part-time and freelancers since then. We recognize that a strong team is required for us to get to the next stage of our business. We’re eager to learn how to do this well!

Mission: We help communities understand themselves better.

The Appeal

Interest in the Lab: As one of the first worker-led nonprofit newsrooms in the U.S, The Appeal is excited to take part in this program because we’re committed to creating a diverse and equitable newsroom that reflects our community. As we enter the next stage of growth, we are excited to build on the innovative practices we have modeled, reimagine best practices in newsrooms, and thread our values of “self and community care” into our policies and procedures. By intentionally creating an inclusive and supportive newsroom culture, we will be in an even stronger position to grow our team, support critical new hires, and provide equitable opportunities for success.

Mission: The Appeal is a nonprofit news organization that envisions a world in which systems of support and care, not punishment, create public safety. The Appeal’s journalism exposes the harms of a criminal legal system entrenched in centuries of systemic racism. We equip people with the information necessary to make change, and we elevate solutions that emerge from the communities most affected by policing, jails, and prisons in the U.S.

The Current Media Inc.

Interest in the Lab: We’ve spent several years building runway. And now we’re ready to take off. We need a team to get there.

Mission: We explore, explain and engage Lafayette.

The NRI Nation

Interest in the Lab: The NRI Nation has been on an exciting journey since we incubated at the Harvard Innovation Labs a year ago. Currently, we are expanding our reporting to focus on more in-depth coverage of nuanced topics that relate to the Indian diaspora. We believe this program will equip us with the knowledge and funds to help accelerate our team’s growth.

Mission: The NRI Nation is on a mission to provide the global Indian diaspora with quality journalism that informs, engages, and equips them with the information they need.

The Optimist

Interest in the Lab: As I ramp up the original journalism and community engagement programs at The Optimist, it’s increasingly hard to manage everything as a solopreneur. I plan to bring on a business staffer and a reporter in my second year, and I want to make sure I am well situated to find and support the right people for the jobs. I want to model good employment practices and support new and veteran workers in the field.

Mission: The Optimist taps Minnesota’s creative and independent talent to produce solution-focused stories and local art to inform and inspire. We provide training and spur conversations in support of community problem solving, media literacy, community journalism and democracy.

Building and Managing a Team Lab Coaches

An Xiao (Ana) Mina

I’m a consultant, coach and author, and I’d love to help you grow your business, nonprofit or personal project into a sustainable and fulfilling livelihood for yourself and your teams. I recently stepped down as COO at Meedan, a global mid-sized nonprofit in journalism and technology. I became the organization’s first COO just a few months before the pandemic, taking ownership of people operations, finance operations, team culture, EDI and general strategy, often serving as the organization’s “0 to 1” person as we grew our team from 14 to nearly 40. Amidst the pandemic, our team developed a multifaceted company wellness program designed to help ensure everyone had the tools they needed to work safely—both physically and mentally. It was a role that would become one of the most rewarding and challenging in my professional life so far, a role where I bore witness to the great sorrows and joys of life in the face of COVID. I’ve published two books to critical acclaim — Memes to Movements (Beacon, 2019) and The Hanmoji Handbook (MITeen Press, 2022) —, and I helped edit a third — Ai Weiwei Spatial Matters. My work has been featured in outlets like the New York Times, The Economist, MIT Technology Review, Hyperallergic and the Atlantic, and I’ve given expert commentary on the BBC, Disney+, NPR and other news outlets. I helped produce Jessica Kingdon’s Ascension, which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary last year. So I love making media and understand the challenges therein.

Bene Cipolla

Bene offers 15 years of experience in digital and organizational strategy, audience development, and team management, and a 25-year background in multiple facets of journalism and media, from enterprise, breaking news, service journalism, and instructional content to nonprofits and community engagement. Her experiences beyond news in digital startups taught her about launching products, scaling organizations, managing operations, and driving revenue — experiences that enriched her work back in journalism. Most recently she served as editor-in-chief and then publisher of Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Bene geeks out over organizational design, project management, and design thinking as much as creative storytelling, and believes we all produce better journalism when we focus as much on our own people as on the stories we produce.

Dick Tofel

Dick Tofel was the founding general manager (and first employee) of ProPublica from 2007-2012, and its president from 2013 until September 2021. As president, he had responsibility for all of ProPublica’s non-journalism operations, including communications, legal, development, finance and budgeting, and human resources. During this time, ProPublica grew from an initial staff of just over 20 to more than 160, and raised more than $225 million from other than its founding funders. He serves on the board/advisory board of the American Journalism Project, CalMatters, The City, the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas, Austin, Harvard Public Health magazine, Outlier Media, Retro Report, the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Center for Media and Democracy in Israel.

Jennifer Mizgata

Jennifer Mizgata is a senior media consultant who leads with empathy. Specializing in digital innovation, leadership development, and organizational change, Jennifer coaches managers, senior leaders, and entrepreneurs on their careers and business strategies. She helps teams and individuals shift mindset, work more collaboratively, and bring new products to market. With extensive experience working at the intersection of journalism and technology, she has worked as a program director, editor, and business strategist, using human-centered design to build new products that respond to community needs and help create a more equitable world. She also teaches media, innovation and business strategy at American University and writes about improving work culture. In 2020, she launched Fortune’s advice column, Work Space. Previously, she was the Director of Programs for the Online News Association (ONA), where she founded and directed the Women’s Leadership Accelerator, invested in award-winning projects, and managed key relationships with journalism partners and tech stakeholders. At the World Food Programme (WFP), she designed outreach strategies and served as the first U.S. social media lead. Jennifer lives in Baltimore. She has a degree in International Studies from Goucher College, a MA in Design Leadership from Maryland Institute College of Art, and an MBA from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

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