24 reasons to attend the country's biggest gathering of local independent online news publishers

By Matt DeRienzo | Oct. 1, 2017

Why should you attend the 2017 LION Summit Oct. 26-28 in Chicago, the country’s largest gathering of local independent online news publishers?

You run an online local news site. The program is packed with speakers, panels and workshops on the revenue, journalism, technology, audience and community engagement issues facing the business that you are in, with a focus on real-world, practical advice and ideas you can take home and implement. Also, when else will you have the chance to be in a room with 150-plus other people who are experiencing the same challenges and opportunities as you?

You are thinking of launching a local news site. The 2017 LION Summit is your opportunity to learn from the success and mistakes of the people who’ve gone before you. And new this year, it will feature a half-day “boot camp” on Thursday, Oct. 26, for new publishers and idea-stage local news entrepreneurs. How do you develop a business plan and model? How do you get started with building local advertising support or reader revenue streams? How do you develop an audience? What is the “tech stack” needed to run a local news organization? What kind of insurance, legal and bookkeeping services will you need to stay out of trouble?

You are concerned about the future of local news. The Gannetts and Gatehouses won’t ever be going back and restoring the local journalism cuts they’ve made in communities across the country. A Patch-like solution isn’t coming because local doesn’t scale like that. The fix for local news is coming from individual communities taking responsibility for their own journalism and information needs, and supporting the kind of grassroots independent startups that are part of LION.

You’ve wrestled with the for-profit vs. nonprofit question. Both nonprofit local news organizations and for-profit news sites will be represented at the conference, which will include a discussion of the pros and cons of each model. There’s also a constant flow of idea-sharing between for-profit and nonprofit LION members, as for-profits are starting to launch nonprofit-style membership programs, and nonprofits have looked to advertising, events and other ideas from for-profit sites to reduce their reliance on foundation support and traditional fundraising.

You need some one-on-one advice. This year’s LION Summit will feature “office hours” with advertising sales expert Eleanor Cippel, who’s ready to help with any organization- or market-specific questions you have, both big and small. You’ll also have the opportunity to set up appointments with a team of volunteer veteran local online news publishers for help with more general business, strategy and tech questions.

Immigration is an important topic to your readers. How do local news organizations cover immigration under Trump, and the end of DACA, especially if they don’t have sources with or expertise about federal agencies?

Health care is an important topic to your readers. How do you cover attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the relative stability of the health insurance markets, at the local level? And how do you step up to the plate when your community is faced with a major public health emergency? You’ll hear from Rose Hoban of North Carolina Health News, Jiquanda Johnson, who has covered the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, with her site, Flint Beat, and from a panel of local news leaders grappling with the opioid epidemic.

You’re trying to figure out mobile. Christopher Guess, a Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow, will demo “Push,” an open-source app aimed at giving small news organizations access to mobile new solutions.

You’d like to make money from podcasting. Jason Velazquez, publisher of the Greylock Glass, a local news podcasting network in Massachusetts, will talk about how to get started in podcasting and how to monetize.

You’d like to make money from email newsletters. David Walsh of Walsh Creative will lead a workshop in growing audience for and monetizing your email newsletters.

You have questions about news site design. Travis Smith of Hop Studios and Julia Smith of the Institute for Nonprofit News will lead a local news website design critique session.

You’re concerned about trust in news in the age of Trump. A theme running through the 2017 LION Summit will be local news outlets’ role in restoring trust in journalism in the face of disinformation and attacks on the press. Tracie Powell, founder of All Digitocracy and a LION board member, will talk about trust and engagement, and you’ll hear from publishers of local online news sites, including Darryl Holliday of City Bureau in Chicago and Tasneem Raja of The Tyler Loop in Texas, who are putting some of these ideas into practice.

You’d like more out of your relationship with Facebook. LION is working with Facebook on a pilot project connecting small local news publishers with information and advice about their relationship with the company and the tools it offers. You’ll hear about how this is going so far for pilot sites Philadelphia Public School Notebook, Home Page Media in Tennessee and Q City Metro in North Carolina, hear from Facebook's local news team, and learn about its free Crowdtangle analytics tool.

You need sales training or advice. The LION Summit is full of opportunities to learn best practices for local advertising sales, and to come away with specific ideas for growing ad revenue. Ebony Reed of Reynolds Journalism Institute will talk about how journalists are uniquely suited to make the transition to selling advertising. Eleanor Cippel will lead sales workshops. And fellow publishers will share specific ideas that have worked in their markets.

You want to launch a membership program. Mary Walter-Brown of the News Revenue Hub will talk about how to launch a paid membership program to support local journalism and answer your questions.

You are considering a paywall. LION member Jay Senter, publisher of the Shawnee Mission Post in Kansas, will talk about his experience in switching to a paid subscription model after seven years of giving away local news for free in a 100 percent advertising-based model. His goal of reaching 1,000 paid subscribers within a year was reached in just three months.

You’re tired of leaving stories at “this is horrible.” Want your journalism to be more than just a great description of the problems in your community? Liza Gross from Solutions Journalism Network, and the staff of local independent online news site Richland Source in Ohio, will walk you through how to do rigorous journalism examining potential solutions to the big issues you write about.

You want to know how foundations are supporting local news. Representatives from a number of national foundations that care about journalism’s role in a strong democracy, and are funding projects to strengthen it, will attend the 2017 LION Summit. You’ll hear about their vision for strengthening local news ecosystems and have the opportunity to share yours.

You need training on Google tools. You can learn how to use Advanced Search, Google Scholar, Google Image Search, Google Trends Google's geospatial tools, such as Google Maps, Fusion Tables, Google Earth and Street View in training sessions run by Andy Boyle of Axios.

You know you should be on Instagram and Snapchat but don’t know where to start. Even the publishers of online-only local news organizations can be slow to understand and adopt new platforms. P. Kim Bui of NowThis News will inspire you to break out of your comfort zone.

You are worried about getting sued. Attorney Jeffrey Kosseff will provide a primer on defamation law, and the common mistakes that are likely to lead to lawsuits, including practical tips to reduce the likelihood that you will face a successful defamation suit.

You’d like to get average citizens involved in local journalism: You’ll hear about East Lansing Info in Michigan, where publisher Alice Dreger has enlisted an army of citizen journalists who cover local school board meetings and events. Jean Marie Brown and Suzanne McBride will talk about college students getting involved in local news coverage at Texas Christian University and Columbia College in Chicago, respectively, and Rob Chappell will talk about Madison 365 Academy, which is training young people in local journalism in Wisconsin.

You don’t know how to reach millennials. The staff of Richland Source will walk you through their successful efforts to reach younger members of their community, and Ted Williams of Charlotte Agenda and Jim Brady of Spirited MediaBilly Penn in Philadelphia, Denverite in Colorado and The Incline in Pittsburgh – will talk about business models that help brands reach engaged millennials.

You need to do a better job monetizing local sports coverage. Steven Ludwig from BigR Media in Tennessee will talk about how to make money from local sports coverage and how to decide whether its worth the investment.

You need a reason to enjoy Chicago. Join a bunch of other people who care about the strength of local journalism in enjoying Chicago’s restaurants, parks and attractions. And the LION Summit always features a late-night sojourn to the Billy Goat Tavern.

If you've read this far, it's time to register!

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 »