What does it take to build and grow a sustainable news business?
As my colleague Anika Anand wrote for Nieman Lab last year, our industry hasn’t been very good at answering this question – in part because flashy editorial projects get all the buzz while flaws in a business’s underlying revenue or operations too often get ignored.
At LION, we’re trying to highlight true newsroom successes by better understanding and defining what makes a news business sustainable, and we’re also trying to answer the question that inevitably comes next:
Once we identify key indicators of sustainability, what support and training do publishers then need to reach them?
When I joined LION nearly two years ago, there were plenty of anecdotes about what our members needed to build stronger businesses.
Funding, of course, usually topped the list. But many of the asks from our members felt more bespoke, and in turn, so were the resources we offered to address them – a post about fiscal sponsorship here, a webinar about copyright laws there, a revenue AMA whenever we could squeeze one in. Valuable information, our members told us, but scattershot, from our perspective.
What we were missing was a way to measure our members’ needs at scale and begin identifying shared priorities. In 2022 we’ve begun to experiment with what that looks like:
- Through the LION-GNI Sustainability Audits and Funding program, we’ve completed detailed surveys and interviews with 45 publishers and counting about their opportunities, challenges and successes in all three phases of business sustainability.
- The LION-Meta Revenue Growth Fellowship has given 12 independent publishers sustained, intensive support from our revenue coaches, while giving us real-time visibility into the questions these publishers are asking, the roadblocks they’re hitting and the resources and advice they find most helpful.
- Our News Entrepreneur Community on Slack has grown into a conversation and problem-solving space for nearly 1,000 publishers and other news professionals, helping us learn from news leaders across the industry about their biggest needs and challenges.
In the spirit of transparency, we still have a lot more work to do collecting data from independent publishers, and even more work to organize and interpret it to ensure we’re best meeting their needs.
But even at this early stage, we’re seeing trends emerge, and we’ve started to use that data to better plan and prioritize the things we write, record, produce and host for our members.
All of that is context for a new experimental approach to LION’s work of answering our members’ questions and strengthening the independent news industry.
Instead of playing whack-a-mole with dozens of individual questions and topics, we’ll be focusing our newsletter, podcast, webinars and other resources on one business challenge each month that we know is a priority for publishers.
Here’s what we have planned for the six months ahead – and how you can take stay in the loop:
Know and grow your audience (August): Learn how to expand your reach and impact by more precisely defining who you’re trying to serve and what news and information needs are most important for them.
Choose the right revenue streams (September): Learn how to use opportunity sizing and market analysis to identify the most promising revenue opportunities for your news business.
Be a better manager (October): Learn how to set up your new hires for success by defining clear goals and expectations, developing an onboarding plan, and providing the right amount of support.
Measure and market your impact (November): Learn how to document the ways you’re making a difference in your community and use that impact to attract readers, donors, partners and/or funders.
Prevent burnout (December): Learn how to set a sustainable workload for yourself and your colleagues by measuring team health, delegating responsibilities, and right-sizing the products you create.
Make time for revenue work (January): Learn how to make revenue growth a priority for your news business and build this work into your daily and weekly routines.
The best way to follow these monthly series is by signing up for LION’s newsletter, where we’ll share everything we’re learning and highlight related resources and opportunities for independent publishers. You can also:
- Subscribe to our News Guest podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Our episodes this season will drop on the first Tuesday of every month, and they’ll kick off each month’s content series.
- Share questions about any of the monthly topics in our News Entrepreneur Community on Slack. We’ll do our best to address them in the LION newsletter, and other publishers in the group are likely to share their thoughts even faster.
- Become a LION member to access member-only resources that will be included in these series, including courses and lessons in our News Entrepreneur Academy.
P.S. We’ll be talking about audience research and development (and a whole lot more!) at the Independent News Sustainability Summit in Austin this October. To join us, buy your early-bird ticket by August 19, and apply for a scholarship if you need help covering the cost of travel and lodging.
Know and grow your audience ft. Anita Li and Rebekah Monson
A LION conversation about audience research and growth, hosted by Outlier Media’s Candice Fortman.
What digital media’s biggest flops can teach us
The lesson: News business ideas are only as good as the audience research backing them up.
What we’re learning about news publishers’ needs
News publishers often think their challenges are unique. Our data shows they have a lot in common.