50,000 reasons indie news publishers need to attend the 2017 LION Summit

Conference is a 'game changer,' 'worth every penny' for local journalism entrepreneurs

By Dylan Smith | Sep. 19, 2017

Howard Owens of The Batavian speaks at the 2016 LION Publisher Summit in Chicago.

From the publishers of startup local news sites, to sponsors and industry experts, there's widespread agreement that the annual LION Summit is a conference like no other: 

"Every time I go, I get $50,000 worth of ideas" ... "Go, and be prepared to feel like your head's going to explode — in a good way. You are going to hear so many amazing ideas that you just can't wait to implement." ... "Attending this conference has been a game changer for my news website."

"Thhe first time I went to this conference I walked away with an understanding of how I was going to run my business and felt like I had a strategy that would work," said Denise Lockwood of Racine County Eye

"I attend plenty of journalism conferences, but the LION Summit really stands out for being a gathering of friends. It's a welcoming event for all kinds: veteran digital publishers, those just starting out, in addition to educators and researchers — folks like me who are at the periphery. As a first-time attendee and speaker some years ago, I was quickly brought into the fold (and I'm sure I owe at least a few of you a beer!). Today, my network is all the richer on account of the relationships I've formed in Chicago," said Jesse Holcomb, an assistant professor at Calvin College (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and former associate director of research at the Pew Research Center.

"The LION conference for me has worked on several levels. It has helped us bring in more money with revenue ideas that weren't just interesting sounding gimmicks, but practical ideas that we could implement right away," said Darren Hillock of West of the I.

"Being more confident in my site's overall health has helped me with sales. Go, and be prepared to feel like your head's going to explode — in a good way," said Josh Popichak of Saucon Source. "You are going to hear so many amazing ideas that you just can't wait to implement. And even if you only end up implementing 10 percent of them your trip will have been well worth it."

$50,000 in ideas

"I'm flying in from Texas because all you east coast/west coast folks need diversity!," said Joe Hyde of San Angelo Live. "Also, every time I go, I get ideas worth $50,000 in annual revenue. Last year, it was Scott Brodbeck's real estate and Kim Clark's ad stats reporting for clients."

Clark, the vice president of busines development for Noozhawk, said, "the talent and passion that LION Publishers exude is second to none. Learning how to leverage and monetize the audience your passion and drive provides to a community craving solid LOCAL news and information, is just one of the many things discussed at LION. I have attended twice, and am proud to have just joined the LION Board of Directors. I take away innovative ideas and best practices that cannot be found elsewhere each time I attend the conference."

"I go to the LION annual conference to get a big-picture view of how entrepreneurial news startups are transforming the local media landscape and how their founders' grit and imagination are making these efforts sustainable," said Jan Schaffer, the executive director of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, and an adjunct professor at American University School of Communication and CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

Programming at LION's annual conference "strikes a nice balance, offering some of the most targeted, practical sessions I could imagine for local online publishers. It also makes room for some highly valuable scene-setting and contextual sessions that empower publishers to see around a corner in this rapidly changing tech and media environment," Holcomb said.

"We've been in business for four years and I've gone to LION for three of those years," said Jay Allred of Richland Source. "The bottom line is this: Independent news organizations will form the connective tissue in the local news landscape in this country going forward, but the future is far from decided. LION is the one and only industry group that represents us."

"The quality of the programming and valuable networking is why we're bringing six staffers this year. They'll share their hard-won knowledge, and take back twice as much value as they provide," said Allred, who also sits on LION's Board.

Kenny Katzgrau, founder of Broadstreet Ads, a conference sponsor and ad-serving platform for many LION members, said that what sets the summit apart is that "nearly all of its attendees are entrepreneurs. They are the decision makers. They are early adopters. And best of all, they're completely down to earth and fun to hang out with."

"As a vendor, marketing my company and acquiring new customers is only half the reason I attend. The other half is that I'm present for the overall conversation that takes place — I come away with an updated sense of which direction I need to take my company in," Katzgrau said.

More than one LION member has said attending the conference completely reoriented their own business plans.

"Attending this conference has been a game changer for my news website. Other attendees have helped me become a better business owner and salesperson. And I just felt deeply connected to them," Lockwood said. "They get my addiction... because they have it too."

"Just for starters I met David Walsh of Walsh Creative (a sponsor of the summit) at last year's conference," said Popichak. "That was a game changer for me and my site, which I feel is on more stable ground now, 'infrastructurally' (I made word that up). And being more confident in my site's overall health has helped me with sales."

"The camaraderie is also great. Even my close friends and family don't understand what I do the way a fellow LION member does, because they haven't lived it," he said. "To be able to spend time with people who can relate to what I do like that, and vice versa, is a privilege. And that's something you can't get just from watching a webinar or participating in a Facebook discussion."

"The LION conference was responsible for us connecting with Broadstreet and using them as our ad serving company, which has saved us numerous hours in efficiency," Hillock said. "The conference is also a time for business introspection and considering what we are and what we should be while we listen to what others are and have planned for their futures. Worth every penny every year."

Sign up now to attend the only conference dedicated to Local Independent Online News Publishers. Oct. 26-28 at Columbia College Chicago, local news pioneers will share their entrepreneurial secrets. It's not too late to sign up to be a part of LION's largest-ever gathering!

To be eligible for member rates, you must be a current LION Publishers member through Nov. 1, 2017. Check your membership status.

In addition to three days of networking and sessions led by industry experts, your registration includes light breakfast and a catered lunch on Friday and Saturday, coffee and snacks, and appetizers/light dinner and drinks at the Thursday and Friday evening receptions.

Register for the 2017 LION Summit in Chicago

Sign up soon! Regular registration, now underway, is $120 for members, $265 for non-members and $40 for students. Late registration — $145 members, $290 non-members, $45 students — will run Oct. 14-25, with at-the-door registration available for $170 for members, $315 for non-members and $50 for students.

Check out more entries in our 2017 conference blog »