Patterson will sweeten LION dues for local independent online news publishers


Founding members of LION at the 2011 BlockbyBlock Community News Summit.

LIONPublishers, the new trade association for local independent online news publishers, will be getting a start-up sweetener from The Patterson Foundation.

Patterson will offer a subsidy to encourage local indie publishers to join LION, the formation of which  was reported last week by the Columbia Journalism Review. LION has been under development for more than a year since organizing efforts began in  earnest at the 2011 BlockbyBlock Community news summit in Chicago.

“Patterson will subsidize a significant portion of the dues of the early members for the first couple of years,” said Dylan Smith, LION chairman. “They will be paying a slice of people’s dues.”

The precise mechanism and dollar amounts have not yet been hammered out.

Cash strapped, bootstrapped indie publishers

“We recognize that every news site that is doing this is just as cash strapped as we are,” Smith said, so the dues subsidy early on will be welcome. But in the long term, “We want to make  LION a valuable enough organization that it will repay itself to become a member.”

Many prospective members of LION will be one or two person local indie publishers running newsrooms for a community or region. Other associations targeting online newsrooms focus on the needs of legacy media going online or larger newsrooms reporting on national issues.

But LION alone will focus on local indie publishers serving a specific community. The organizing members come from communities as large as Tucson — Smith is editor and publisher of the Tucson Sentinel — to areas of large cities, such as Brooklyn neighborhood, Sheepshead Bay, which is covered by local indie publisher Sheepshead Bites.

Key word is independent

But the most important aspect of the profile of the LION publisher is that word “independent.”

“The technology isn’t the magic bullet,” Smith said. “It takes  show leather, working the community news side and working the revenue side.”

“We are getting back to the roots of what reporting was for so much  of the 19th and 20centuries.  It was local publishers reporting local news for the community. It wasn’t these huge bureaucratic chains so removed from the communities,” Smith said.

“We really want to support what we think is the future of local news and make that better.  We think start-up organizations will make local news work again and provide the news that helps us all make life decisions.”

Ruffin Prevost, editor of YellowstoneGate, which reports on Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and its surrounding communities, said he is definitely interested in joining.

“I would expect this to follow a volunteer/bootstrap model, and imagine that members would donate skills, talents and resources to move it forward, so my hope is that dues aren’t cost-prohibitive for small start-ups like me,” Prevost wrote in an email.  “If dues were in line with monthly fees for web hosting or similar monthly subscription-based services — something like $25 per month — that’s something I could swing.”

“Likewise, I would be willing to contribute time or labor to help with the grunt work involved in running the operation,” Prevost said.

On its website LION says its mission is to:

Foster the viability and excellence of locally focused independent online news organizations and cultivate their connections to their communities through education and action.

Smith said one of LION’s main goals is to build a good news site for local publishers, editors and reporters that will provide a better platform for sharing information. It will include a searchable forum and also be the host site for webinars, conference calls and other educational programs.

As a trade association, LION will be able to better leverage health insurance, liability insurance and other benefits that mom and pop news shops need but often cannot afford, Smith said.  It will also put energy into discovering new factors in the sustainability equation for community news.

Establishing a new virtual trade association is a lot of work for small newsrooms already busy covering their communities. To help that work along, The Patterson Foundation  is also providing the services of a consultant who is helping the steering committee iron out organizational and operational details of the new 501© 3, which can currently accept funds with the assistance of a fiscal sponsor.

Another top LION priority will be to find a way to sustain some version of the BlockbyBlock Community News Summit.

“The BlockbyBlock conference has been an amazing networking resource for us,” Smith said. “If not for that face-to-face time we probably would not be doing this. “

The high quality of information and the sense of community at the 2011 BlockbyBlock Summit are what sold YellowstoneGate’s Prevost on the benefits of  joining an organization like LION.

“It’s obvious to me that I have a lot to learn from the other publishers, and they’ve gone through a lot of the same phases of development that I’ll be facing in the months ahead,” he said. “The odds are that if I run into a specific problem or issue, someone in that group has already faced it and either found a solution or made moves that didn’t work out that I can learn from.”

The Block-By-Block community news summit is an annual gathering of local independent online news publishers. First held in 2010, the summit is entering its third and final year under a commitment from The Patterson Foundation.

The 2012 summit will be September 13-15 in Chicago. Publishers and staff members of local independent online news sites -—up to two people per organization can attend free of charge.

You can follow the progress of LION on its website or on Twitter. Or join the conversation on the LION Facebook page.

Sally Duros is a social journalist working toward the next generation of successful, credible online newsrooms. Connect with her on Google+ and on twitter at saduros.

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