Covering local news (and paying for it) in a big city on LION Summit agenda

By Matt DeRienzo | Oct. 18, 2017

Reversing the decline of local news coverage in major U.S. cities, and the unique challenges of paying for local journalism in urban markets will be on the agenda of the 2017 LION Summit Oct. 26-28 in Chicago.

The conference is the country's largest gathering of local independent online news organizations, and attendance is on track to be up more than 50 percent from last year. The number of local online news sites -- and membership in LION -- have grown significantly over the past year. Independent local news publishers form 39 different states have registered to attend. LION members operate both nonprofit and for-profit local news sites, covering a range of geographic markets that include rural counties, suburban communities, big cities and statewide niche markets.

A session scheduled for Saturday morning, Oct. 28, will focus on sites that are doing neighborhod-specific local news coverage in big cities. It will feature Jesus Sanchez, publisher of The Eastsider in Los Angeles, Led Black of the Uptown Collective in Harlem and Washington Heights, Dina Rabiner of Bklyner, Darryl Holliday of Chicago's City Bureau, and Evan Moore, an independent journalist in Chicago.

Earlier this year, Paul Moses wrote in The Daily Beast about how the city's daily newspapers have all but abandoned local news coverage in New York City, with the Daily News closing a Queens bureau in 2015 that used to be staffed by a dozen reporters. It was the last of its local bureaus.

Discussions of "news deserts" conjure visions of rural middle-America communities where a local newspaper has shut down, yet some of the most heavily populated communities in the country have no local journalists keeping watch on local tax dollars, schools and courts. Those communities are also some of the country's most diverse, raising the issue of what Karen Rundlet of the Knight Foundation recently described as "information inequality."

Local independent online news sites such as Bklyner, Uptown Collective, DNAInfo, the Lo-Down, and Greenpointers are emerging to fill these gaps in New York, but the economics of local advertising and reader support can be different than suburban or rural markets. Holliday, who co-founded and helps run Chicago's City Bureau, which was established as a nonprofit, recently questioned whether the readers the site is trying to serve could afford to support the work without the outside help the organization has received from foundations.

There's still time to register for the 2017 LION Summit, which will feature three days of speakers, panels and workshops on the revenue, journalism, technology, audience development and community engagement issues facing local online news publishers. If you can't make it to Chicago, follow livestreams of select sessions at lionpublishers.com, and join the conversation on Twitter using the #LION17 hashtag.

Check out more entries in our 2017 conference blog »