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Local online news and sustainability: All the things from LION's Chicago summit

LION Publishers held its biggest-ever summit of local independent online publishers in Chicago this weekend. Here's a rundown of recaps from a packed schedule tackling topics such as revenue, journalism, technology and community engagement:

- Group Notes: Attendees worked together to take online notes on what was said at the conference. You can read Friday's notes here and Saturday's notes here.

- Video: Thanks to Charlotte-Anne Lucas of NowCastSA and William Waldrop of Wilchar Media, we livestreamed a number of the sessions. Replays are available here.

- Advertising: Eleanor Cippel of Coats 2 Coats talked about an "intentional" approach to advertising revenue for local news sites, how to manage sales reps and what local businesses are faced with in making decisions about marketing. She also joined John Ward of Redbank Green and Kelly Gilfillan of Brentwood Home Page to talk about advertising sales in a small organization.

- Crowdfunding. Brian Wheeler from Charlottesville Tomorrow and Traven Rice of The Lo-Down in New York offered tips on how to launch a successful journalism crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and Beacon (recap here and video here).

- Investigative Reporting: Steve Beatty of The Lens in New Orleans, Andy Hall of Wisconsin Watch and Jeff Kelly Lowenstein of Columbia College talked about how indie news sites can lead the way in public service reporting.

- Membership Programs: Wendy Cohen of Berkeleyside, Lauren Fuhrmann of Wisconsin Watch and Charlotte-Anne Lucas talked about how to build membership programs that engage the community and provide a new stream of revenue to support local news. (Related story here, highlighting the work of Berkeleyside and the Voice of San Diego.)

- Revenue and Marketing Ideas: LION publishers in attendance shared some of their best ideas. Jay Allred of Richland Source talked about some creative alternative revenue sources. And at the Knight Digital Media Center blog, Michele Mclellan recaps some of the alternative revenue discussions from the summit.

- Foundation Funding: John Bracken of the Knight Foundation led a discussion with Tom Glaisyer of the Democracy Fund and Jenny Choi of the McCormick Foundation on foundation funding of local news.

- Covering Under-Served Communities: Tracie Powell of All Digitocracy spoke about media bias against people of color and how indie news publishers can better cover under-served communities.

- Lessons Learned: Jan Schaffer of J-Lab moderated a discussion with three former indie local news publishers who have shut down their sites or left the business - David Boraks, Mike Fourcher and Ned Berke. And from Poynter's Jim Warren: Why local online sites died: a post-mortem with a possible silver lining.

- The State of Independent Local News: Michele Mclellan of "Michelle's List" provided an update on the success of various local independent online news sites and business models (recap here and video here). Jesse Holcomb of Pew Research Center talked about access to local news and reader habits across the country (recap here and video of the talk here).

- Legal Issues: Jan Schaffer of J-Lab talked about legal issues facing online news sites. (Related story here from our spring conference in Philadelphia.)

- Preserving Archives: Edward McCain of the University of Missouri talked about a growing crisis in the loss of digital local news archives.

- Community Engagement: Jake Batsell of Southern Methodist University talked about successful community engagement ideas and methods from across the country.

- Obits and Hyperpersonal News: Steve Waldman of LifePosts talked about the opportunity online local news sites have in highlighting obituaries and life "celebrations" such as births, engagements and anniversaries.

- Solutions Journalism: Samantha McCann of Solutions Journalism Network talked about the potential solutions journalism has for audience engagement and community building.

- Email Newsletters: Joe Hyde of San Angelo Live talked about an email newsletter program that is generating more than $10,000 a month in revenue for his site.

- Social Media Verification: Teresa Schmedding of the American Copy Editors Society talked about verification of social media content.

Special thanks again to our LION 2015 Summit sponsors Broadstreet Ads, Guarantee Digital, Bizyhood, the McCormick Foundation, Poynter and the Knight Foundation.

News About Independent Local News Sites

DOES LOCAL SCALE?: Street Fight's Tom Grubisich breaks down dueling perspectives by Nieman Lab's Josh Benton ("Local news is getting crushed") and LION's Matt DeRienzo ("A diverse local news ecosystem is emerging") on the state of local news, arguing that Benton should be more optimistic about the success of local independent online news sites, but that DeRienzo is wrong to dismiss corporate chains' local news efforts and attempts to "scale" local.

LION MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: This week's LION member Q&A features Michael Martin, publisher of the Columbia Heartbeat in Missouri. "The Columbia Heart Beat is a hard-hitting, pull-no-punches, muckraking, for-profit news site that receives reader donations via sites such as Indiegogo and ad dollars via sites such as AdSense.  We cover public officials and public agencies; and offer limited coverage of the arts, local personalities, entertainment, and small business," Martin said. "The first question we ask when deciding to run with a story is: Has this been covered already? If so, we usually pass." The full interview is on LION's website.

BROCKTON: Undaunted by others’ setbacks, a Brockton, Massachusetts, startup targets hyperlocal news.

NEW JERSEY: How a New Jersey hyperlocal was digital first, print second and bilingual third.

WORCESTER: An online news startup in Worcester, Massachusetts, is being built around reader subscriptions and plans for a Sunday print edition.

Tips and Tools: Advertising and Revenue

AD FRAUD: Media seek distance from ad fraud issue, use relative lack of fraud on their sites as a selling point. How one fraud site netted 161 million video ad impressions in one week.

AD BLOCKING: Everything has a price: Publishers weigh options for buying their way out of blocked ads. Rise of ad blockers solves many problems for digital news industry. But things will get worse before they get better. A cell phone company is banning ads unless companies such as Google pay up. Adblock Plus to allow independent board to decide which ads are "acceptable."

MOBILE: Connecting the local-mobile economy, one step at a time. Here are six new ways to make mobile advertising work. The cost of mobile ads on 50 news websites.

MICROPAYMENTS: Blendle and the case for charging readers by the online story.

TARGETING: To compete with Facebook and Google, publishers step up their ad-targeting game.

PROGRAMMATIC: Publishers that say no to automated ad sales: Some believe they can make more money on their own and reduce annoyance.

PODCASTING: The Chicago Podcast Cooperative wants to help independent audio thrive in the Windy City.

Tips and Tools: Journalism and Technology

FOIA: Can FOIA get its groove back? Top 10 tips for getting public records.

LIBEL: California libel protection now covers online publications.

LONG-FORM: Why a Florida TV station devoted 6,000 words to its latest investigation.

LEGAL ISSUES: Can I use that? A legal primer for journalists.

EMPATHY: Increasing empathy: can journalism help people relate to distant problems?

STORY COMMENTS: New York Times editor: “We have to treat comments as content.”  Why reader comments matter if local journalism is to thrive online.

TRAUMA: Breaking news best practices: Reaching and interviewing witnesses and victims of trauma.

DATA: The shocking costs of pursuing data journalism stories — and how newsrooms can afford them.  With money from Knight, the AP will create standards for data journalism.

VIDEO: How not to break the bank with video. Five tips for Periscope beginners.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: Community engagement models for more inclusive journalism.

VERIFICATION: The four bare-bones things every journalist needs to know about verification.

VIRTUAL REALITY: Virtual reality news is becoming a reality in many newsrooms.

AUTOMATION: How the Associated Press is using automation to rethink the way it does news.

Industry News

TABLOIDS: The Daily News layoffs and digital shift may signal the tabloid era’s end.

POLITICO: Politico planning to launch state-based sites across U.S., plus international editions, by 2020.

APPLE VS. GOOGLE VS. FACEBOOK: Apple's brilliant assault on advertising -- and Google. Google to match Facebook by giving advertisers better data targeting. Google plans to unveil its version of ‘Instant Articles.’

FACEBOOK BLOGGING: Facebook begins rolling out Medium-like redesign of Notes.

BUZZFEED: BuzzFeed’s new mobile app will be just for news, but not just their own: it will aggregate other reporting.

NEW YORK TIMES: As print fades: Sponsorships and start-ups at the New York Times. The New York Times passes 1 million digital-only subscribers.

PHILADELPHIA: The alt-weekly death spiral strikes Philadelphia. Could the Philadelphia Inquirer become part of Temple University?

TWITTER: Twitter makes ‘buy’ button widely available.

SHIELD LAW: Montana passes landmark reporter shield law.

PRINT FREQUENCY: Why newspapers must dare NOT to be daily.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Nuzzel, with a new batch of news-savvy investors, wants to bring social curation to publishers.

TV AND DIGITAL: Nielsen says total audience measurement is coming 'by end of year.' It's creating a common metric for TV and digital.

SNAPCHAT: Snapchat wants to slip a little news into teens’ social smartphone time.

MILLENNIALS: Millennials will pay for content, but news is not high on their list.

TABLETS: How one newspaper company can save itself by giving away free iPads and becoming the 'Netflix of news.'

Is Your LION Publishers Membership Up for Renewal?
For many of our LION Publishers members, it's time to renew! Your membership includes participation in the LION Publishers Den on Facebook, networking and support from fellow LION publishers, our new newsletter, discounted rates on media liability and directors and officers insurance and more. 

Plus, being a member gives you access to a members-only rate to the LION Summit – a savings of up to $175 compared to the non-member rate. If your membership is due for renewal, please go to to submit your payment. Those who opt for multi-year membership save, and easy, secure payment options are available via credit card or through Paypal. (Not sure when your membership expires? You can look it up easily on

Thanks to our current members who have already renewed!
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