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Build it and they will come.

It’s a common attitude among news founders who believe that intrepid reporting and smart writing alone will attract the readers they need to unlock revenue growth.  

But Henrico Citizen publisher Tom Lappas can tell you it’s a myth. 

“I was naive and thought ‘hey, if we do a good job with this product, people will gravitate toward it and we will just get advertisers coming our way,’” Lappas said on our News Guest podcast. “A year or so later, I realized that wasn't exactly how things worked.”

Like many LION members, Lappas learned that earning revenue as a news business starts with a whole lot of planning and legwork. For Lappas and the Henrico Citizen, that included:

  • Deciding what a business development hire would work on and how to set them up for success. “You need to put together a whole plan for what that person is going to be doing, and who they are going to be targeting. And you have to understand what their pay structure is going to look like. There are a lot of different ways to hire folks, and I've probably tried all of them at one point or another.”
  • Finding the right people to work in a business development role. “The people who have really thrived in this role are people who already were invested in the community. They were volunteers with community organizations, or they were really gung ho about being part of Henrico County. One of the things that I'm trying to do now is get in front of as many Ruritan Clubs and Rotary Clubs as I can to tell them [our] story. Without even asking, somebody will stand up at the end and say, ‘hey, tell me more about what you're doing. That sounds like something that I would like to do.’”
  • Doing audience research and sharing insights with prospective advertisers. “About three years ago, we did a really in-depth survey with a university here in Virginia. It largely confirmed what we thought our readership looked like, but it was nice to be able to say, ‘here's 1,200 survey respondents, this is who they are, and if you advertise with us, you know you're going to be reaching people like this.’ It's an investment, but if you're going to get into the advertising game, it's probably an investment you have to make.”
You can hear more advice from Lappas and news business expert Simon Owens on our latest episode of News Guest

Here are four other ways we’re helping LION members and other independent publishers plan for revenue growth in September and beyond. 
  • The News Entrepreneur Academy includes a lesson on Launching a New Revenue Stream, and later this month we plan to add a new Evaluating Growth Opportunities course that will provide frameworks for identifying different revenue opportunities and deciding whether an idea is worth pursuing.
  • The Independent News Sustainability Summit in Austin this October will feature sessions on planning for growth, assessing revenue opportunities, launching advertising and sponsorships, growing advertising and sponsorships, optimizing your audience funnel and other revenue topics. Register here.
  • The 2022 GNI Startups Lab includes three programs focused on managing money and risk, building and managing a team and planning for revenue growth. Applications are now closed, but all content we use to teach the Lab courses will be available to LION members later this year through our News Entrepreneur Academy

Got questions or insights about planning for revenue growth? Reply to this email or send a note to to let us know, and follow our newsletter this month for updates on what we’re learning.

– Ben DeJarnette, communications manager, and the LION team

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Build a stronger news business

We’ve got some exciting updates to share about the Independent News Sustainability Summit, including the first look at our schedule. It includes: 
  • An opening keynote from Dean Baquet, former executive editor of The New York Times, in conversation with Evan Smith, CEO of The Texas Tribune
  • A keynote from Sisi Wei, editor-in-chief of The Markup, in conversation with Angilee Shah, editor-in-chief of Charlottesville Tomorrow
  • An opening reception on Thursday that will include drinks and appetizers on the plaza at Fareground Austin
Check out the full schedule here, and register ASAP to join independent news industry leaders in Austin. We’ve sold more than 60 percent of available registration, and the remaining tickets are going fast. 

The Independent News Sustainability Summit is hosted by LION Publishers, News Revenue Hub and RevLab at The Texas Tribune. Thank you to Knight Foundation for being our presenting sponsor, and to The Lenfest Institute and Google News Initiative for supporting this event. 

Now here are five other resources and opportunities for independent publishers:

1. Pitch a partnership to build journalism products, tools or resources with the Reynolds Journalism Institute Innovation Team. (Deadline: Rolling)  

2. Connect with other rural entrepreneurs at the Radically Rural summit in Keene, New Hampshire, and use the code JOURNALISM for $20 off your registration. (September 21-22)

3. Plan ahead for tax season by learning what you can do before the end of 2022 to take advantage of small business tax breaks. (September 29)

4. Become a Report for America host newsroom. Applications are now open for news businesses that want to host an RFA fellow starting in 2023. (Deadline: October 3)

5. Launch a matching program to market your advertising packages. Here’s how LION member Richland Source is doing it in Ohio

Why LION opposes these two proposals

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act in the United States and the Online News Act in Canada are both legislative proposals that purport to help local news.

Unfortunately, they largely don’t live up to that promise, which is why LION has joined a long and growing list of other civic and journalism organizations that oppose them. 

Here’s what our Executive Director Chris Krewson wrote about the two bills and why they don’t advance the interests of small independent publishers.

What we're reading

Work smarter, not harder. How journalists can get more mileage out of reporting they’ve already done by repurposing their content. (Simon Owens’s Media Newsletter

The future of local news. How publishers, funders, researchers and others can contribute to addressing local news gaps. (Local News Initiative)

Touchdown-er. What local news founders can learn from the Green Bay Packers about the challenges and limitations of community ownership. (Nieman Lab)

Long game. How LION member Mississippi Today is covering the Jackson water crisis as a long-term issue, not just a one-off news event. (Poynter)

Twitter fingers. Why Twitter finally decided to introduce an ‘edit’ feature, and when it might become available to all users. (The New York Times)

LIONs in the news

If you’re heading to Los Angeles for ONA22 this month, look out for LION Deputy Director Anika Anand, LION member Maple Walker Lloyd from Block Club Chicago and LION Audit Analyst Kim Fox talking about testing a news product idea — and give a pat on the back to these LION members who are finalists for ONA’s 2022 Online Journalism Awards.

  • CalMatters
  • LAist
  • Outlier Media
  • The Texas Tribune
  • Voice of OC
Congrats to all the ONA honorees, and to the INN Nonprofit News Awards finalists we featured last week. 👏

In other LION member news...
  • Hell Gate shared lessons from building a worker-owned local news site that’s “trenchant, playful, outraged, irreverent, and useful to readers” in this Nieman Lab profile

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