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“They gave us basically everything we’d need to be writers. But they didn’t give us any kind of business help at all.”

Of all the complaints leveled at Substack Local – a recently shut-down program that gave 12 news founders a year of funding to help them launch local newsletters on Substack’s platform – this one stood out to us at LION.

As long-time readers of this newsletter will know, we often use our soapbox to argue that money alone isn’t enough to save local news publications, at least not without the business skills to manage those resources and invest them in sustainable growth.  

Unfortunately, Substack Local founders are learning that lesson the hard way. 

According to The Fine Print’s reporting, most of the founders won’t be able to continue working on their businesses full-time now that the grant money has expired, and at least one has already shut down completely.  

(Congrats to LION member The Arizona Agenda, which is cited in the report as one of the most successful Substack Local businesses and among the likeliest to survive long-term.)

The fate of Substack Local might be disappointing, but it shouldn’t be a surprise that a group of journalists-by-trade struggled to build sustainable small businesses with only a year of runway.

As one founder put: “We know journalism, we don’t need help from them [on that]. What we need is 'how do you sell a f—ing subscription? How do you market yourself? How do you grow this thing?'”

Those are the types of questions we hear from LION members all the time, and it’s why we focus so squarely on helping publishers build and grow more sustainable businesses

Sound like what you need? Here are a few of the opportunities we currently have available to support independent news publishers:

We also can’t pass up this opportunity to make a plug for LION membership. After participating in the Sustainability Audits program, one publisher told us that LION membership “has been the best purchase we've made.”

Another said: “LION provides exactly the right tools for our outlet and I am kicking myself for not joining sooner.” 

We’d love the chance to show you why. Learn more about LION membership here and check out our list of 400+ existing members, or hit reply to this email if you’re interested in being the next to join them.

– Ben DeJarnette, communications manager, and the LION team

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7 resources for independent publishers

While we're talking sustainability, here are seven more resources and opportunities that can help you build a stronger news business. 

1. Apply for grant funding in 30 minutes. The Google News Equity Fund has one of the shortest applications you’ll find – and we've heard that all eligible applicants have very good odds of receiving funding. The deadline to apply is today at 11:59 p.m. PT.

2. Use data to strengthen your accountability reporting. Join a free Poynter webinar about the local impacts of the American Rescue Plan and how to use data and public records to strengthen your reporting. (July 26)

3. Learn how to make financial projections. This virtual SCORE workshop will help you build a reliable revenue forecast, with or without historical data. (July 27)

4. Raise money together. The Lenfest Institute is hosting a virtual conversation next week about how the Chicago Independent Media Alliance raised more than $330K to support dozens of local outlets. (July 29)

5. Find tools to improve your tech stack. The LION’s Tools & Services Directory is a compilation of the most popular tools we know our members use for accounting, publishing, analytics and more, and we’re adding new listings all the time. 

6. Get a ‘fast grant’ for Black-owned media projects. The Black Press is accepting grant applications on a rolling basis for projects focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and its intersections within the nation's K-12 education system. 

7. Help fund your coverage of U.S. democracy. The Fund for Investigative Journalism has launched an emergency grant program for stories about threats to American democracy. Applications are being accepted on a rolling basis, with decisions expected within two to four weeks. 
 

Meet our community manager

We’re thrilled to welcome Christian Monterrosa to our team as LION’s community manager, a role focused on fostering an engaged community among LION members and those interested in news entrepreneurship. 

Christian’s work will include: 
  • Connecting with LION’s current and prospective members to ensure their needs directly inform our programming and community engagement strategy 
  • Serving as the primary connector between members and as the primary liaison between LION and our members by providing them with or pointing them to the support and resources they need
  • Working with LION’s staff, members and partners to share and adapt training, peer-learning and connection opportunities.
Here’s the full scoop on Christian and his background. Please join us in giving him a warm welcome to the LION team!

What we're reading

Ask for yourself. How user surveys can help you challenge assumptions about the audience you serve and the things they need from your news business. (Build for Tomorrow)

Meet a need. How a Mexican news startup is serving Indigneous communities, and why it decided to launch a podcast first. (Nieman Lab)

Work from home. What companies can do to make remote work less isolating and more effective, especially for new employees. (The Atlantic)

Give people hope. Why journalists need to update their theory of change as public trust declines and even more news consumers tune out. (The Washington Post)

Find the right hire. Why job ads are only a small part of recruiting, and what else you can do to attract talented candidates. (Poynter)

LIONs in the news

It’s been just four years since Fernando Soto started working on Nuestro Estado as a side hobby, and already the news site has the largest Facebook following of any Spanish-language site in South Carolina, as well as thousands of readers on its website and WhatsApp.

Learn more about Nuestro Estado’s audience growth and revenue model in the latest Better News case study – and congrats to Fernando and the team on all their success. 👏

And in other LION member news…

Get in touch

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You can also email us directly at hello@lionpublishers.com.

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