Tools, technology and talent: How BlueLena is leveling the playing field for independent news publishers

BlueLena uses technology and expert-based consulting to drive news organizations toward sustainability.

May 15, 2024 by Hayley Milloy

BlueLena and Summit logos

BlueLena is a Community Sponsor of the 2024 Independent News Sustainability Summit. LION is profiling all Summit sponsors with a Q&A to help members learn more about their work. Learn more about how to become a Summit sponsor.

Hayley Milloy, LION Publishers: What is your 30-second elevator pitch (or 75-word pitch) to a LION member on what BlueLena does?

Ned Berke, BlueLena: BlueLena is an independent publisher’s audience development back office. We’re collaborators, coaches and cheerleaders for our publishers, and serve as an extension of their teams. With experts in campaign management, audience growth strategy, tech stack management, newsletter and engagement product development, and donor/subscriber stewardship, we bring the technology and cross-disciplinary skillsets required to execute on sustainability goals and give publishers more time and resources to focus on what matters most: serving their communities.

Hayley: And what do you do at BlueLena? Why did you join the team?

Ned: I’m the Chief Strategy Officer, and since BlueLena’s primary product is strategy development and execution, I’m responsible for conceiving, delivering and refining our product offering — including how we collaborate with clients and the solutions we build for them. I’m also chiefly responsible for delivering on their audience and revenue goals. 

I was BlueLena’s first hire in 2021, and I joined because we’re driven by a mission to support independent news publishers — without limiting our support to coverage area, tax status or revenue model. We require only that our publishers serve their respective communities and are driven to do better every day and act with integrity and respect for their audiences. I’m a former LION publisher and one of the founding board members who helped write the original bylaws of the organization. I know first-hand the overwhelming challenges publishers confront every day, and when we envision solutions, it’s always steeped in these experiences and designed to continually lower barriers to sustainability. 

I could go on at length there, but I’ll leave it at this: independent local media is the backbone of democracy and an equitable civic ecosystem, but it’s increasingly outmatched by market forces, tech platforms and the resources of deep-pocketed corporate media. We work to level the playing field by making tools, technology and talent more accessible to independent publishers.

Hayley: What’s a recent success story you’d like to share about how BlueLena has improved a LION member business’s sustainability?

Ned: Oh gosh, we do this all day, every day, and it’s hard to pick one. We’re incredibly proud of the work we’ve done from pre-launch to ongoing management of some of the American Journalism Project grantees, including Mirror Indy, Springfield Daily Citizen and Spotlight Delaware. It’s so much harder to build audiences today than it was a decade ago, and these publishers found quick footing, produced impactful journalism, and today have the financial backing of thousands of readers. For Shawnee Mission Post (now Johnson County Post), we’ve pioneered robust subscriber funnel management tactics, rebuilt site technology and provided marketing guidance that’s grown and retained their subscriber base over four years. And the work we’re doing with Montana Free Press and CalMatters to leverage data and automation to grow large gift-giving pipelines and swell the mid-tier gift-giving numbers is so exciting because it stands to make non-profits far more resilient and less reliant on foundation and major philanthropic support.

Hayley: What’s one actionable, practical, low-lift tip you want to share with LION members?

Ned: Don’t be shy. Publishers are often afraid of coming off as needy or annoying and so they hold back when trying to engage readers, but they don’t realize how eager readers are to invest in work they believe in. Yes, readers encounter a lot of noise and you need to be respectful of that. But in reaction to the noise, readers are not looking for silence — they’re looking for signals! You need to make yourself heard.

Hayley: What’s one question you think the independent news industry — our members, vendors like you, support organizations like us, and funders — should be asking about the future of doing this work? 

Ned: Just one question? Fine. How do we turn the tide on the rising costs of independent media ownership and distribution? At least since the invention of the Gutenberg press, every technological advancement in the history of media has lowered barriers to independent ownership. That means more people with more ideas reaching more audiences — powering a thought marketplace that has accelerated our march toward a more equitable and just world. I think the last 10 years have seen a reversal in that trend; while the ideas still proliferate for now, they’re shared on channels that are not independently owned and that have been steering towards more moderation. It’s now more expensive, and requires greater investment in tools and talent, and still with no certain path to sustainability. That’s a huge risk, not just for the industry but for democracy. And since media spins off ever smaller margins, there’s not a lot of incentive for tech providers to invest in the innovation of affordable products that let independent media operators own their audiences. So I think that’s what the industry should be thinking about — how to get back to the centuries-long trend of increasingly accessible, affordable ownership of distribution channels for independent media.

Hayley: Are there any upcoming or future initiatives that BlueLena is working on that you want to preview for us?

Ned: Yes! We recently launched BlueLena Academy, a reader revenue training program that provides the technology and the skills to grow reader support in-house. And we’re getting past the pilot period with our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) managed offering, which is where we leverage newsletter and site engagement data to inform large gift-giving pipelines and automate donor stewardship to make larger revenue development efforts more efficient. But mainly? We just love to experiment. So if you’ve got a cool idea around audience growth, engagement and monetization, and want to figure out how to build it, come talk to us!

Hayley: What’s the best way for LION members and others to try or learn more about BlueLena’s services?

Ned: Schedule a call! We’d love to chat. Thanks, Hayley!

BlueLena enables success for over 200 independent news organizations by deploying world-class technology and delivering the expertise and professional services to build long-term sustainable journalism business models. Learn more at

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