Post-retreat annoucement

LION broadens membership criteria and outreach to grow community of local independent publishers

By Steve Beatty | Nov. 16, 2018

The LION board and staff, top row, Uriah Kiser, Teresa Wippel, Steve Beatty, Glenn Burkins, Dylan Smith, Scott Brodbeck, Doug Hardy, Matt DeRienzo, Jay Allred; bottom row, Tracie Powell, Suzanne McBride, Kim Clark, Rose Hoban, Kelly Gilfillan, Charlotte-Anne Lucas

LION Publishers, which fosters the viability and excellence of independent local news, this week vastly opened up its membership to additional organizations that are working to water local news deserts around the country.

In significantly broadening its tent, LION continues addressing the rapidly declining volume of local news and information available to communities. Going forward, LION will work intentionally to build the capacity and sustainability of ethnic media, public media, niche publications and university-based local news initiatives, said Kelly Gilfillan, the newly elected chair of LION’s board of directors.

LION’s board voted to expand the group’s outreach, programs, and infrastructure during a weekend retreat in Dallas, made possible through a grant from Democracy Fund. The strategic-planning session came at a time when concerned citizens nationwide are worried about the state of local news.

LION believes the future is bright, and the organization is devoted to leading the way in creating and nurturing local independent online newsrooms.

Since its founding as a non-profit organization in 2012, LION has focused on teaching bootstrapped digital news sites how to become more business minded, engage their audiences, sell advertising, launch membership campaigns, and find the tools that will help them work efficiently.

Board members voted to serve a wider group of publishers, and LION will explicitly encourage applications from:

• legacy independent ethnic media now embracing digital distribution,
• university-based and other student-run publications that provide coverage of their communities beyond campus,
• niche topical publishers,
• and public media organizations seeking to report on local news.

LION soon will begin its new membership drive seeking existing and new publishers who want to join this expanding community of news leaders.

Internally, the board created a new, larger leadership structure that provides a clear line of succession, set an aggressive timetable for selecting a new executive director; approved policies and procedures to cement its own financial accountability; and brainstormed a long list of revenue-generating ideas to support its membership.

Board members elected Gilfillan as the new board chair. She is the associate publisher of Home Page Media Group products for FW Publishing in Nashville and Williamson County, Tenn.

She succeeds founding Chair Dylan Smith, the editor and publisher of TucsonSentinel.com in Tucson, Ariz., who deftly and tirelessly led the organization for six years. Smith took LION from an idea, through a bootstrapping all-volunteer period, to a professionally run organization with a growing staff. Smith remains part of the board’s five-person executive committee, serving as immediate past chair, a new position on the board.

Kim Clark, the vice president of business development and a partner at Noozhawk.com in Santa Barbara, Calif., is the board’s vice chair, also a new position that is part of the board’s executive committee. In the new leadership structure, the vice chair is expected to become the LION board’s leader the next year, pending final board approval.

The addition of the vice chair and the immediate past chair as part of an executive board succession is a common practice among nonprofit boards and provides for a smooth transfer of leadership and institutional knowledge.

Joining them on the executive committee are Treasurer Doug Hardy, partner and business manager at CTNewsJunkie.com in Hartford, Conn., and Secretary Charlotte-Anne Lucas, the executive director at NOWCastSA.com in San Antonio, Texas. Both have served ably in these positions for several years, and they help ensure continuity of the board during this growth period.

The five board officers were approved unanimously and each will serve a one-year term.

They are part of a 13-member board that will oversee a new executive director, expected to be chosen in the next few months. The board will begin advertising the job this week. The board’s widely respected first full-time executive director, Matt DeRienzo, left LION last month to become vice president of news and digital content at Hearst Connecticut Media Group. With DeRienzo’s departure, the board selected Steve Beatty, the former publisher of The Lens in New Orleans, to serve as interim executive director.

The board approved a thorough accounting policy to provide transparency and more accountability to its members and to the growing number of financial supporters who have put their faith — and their money — into LION.

Just as the board encourages its members to develop diverse revenue streams, board members developed a list of earned-income opportunities for LION itself. The board will release more on those as brainstormed ideas get refined into active efforts.

These clear, achievable goals are the result of 16 hours of engaged and dedicated discussion, led by facilitator Jan Schaffer, executive Director at J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism in Washington. DeRienzo and Beatty joined the executive committee and eight other members of the board of directors at the retreat:

• Jay Allred, president of Richland Source in Mansfield, Ohio
• Scott Brodbeck, founder and CEO of Local News Now in Arlington, Va.
• Glenn Burkins, publisher of Qcitymetro in Charlotte, NC
• Rose Hoban, RN, MPH, editor and executive director of North Carolina Health News in Chapel Hill, NC
• Uriah Kiser, owner and publisher of Potomac Local in Manassas, Va.
• Suzanne McBride, chair of the Communication Department at Columbia College, and editor and publisher of Austin Talks in Chicago
• Tracie Powell, founder of AllDigitocracy and Senior Fellow at Democracy Fund
• Teresa Wippel, publisher of My Neighborhood News Network in Edmonds, Wash.