LION (Local Independent Online News) PublishersContinue to ask if you like but the 115-member and growing Local Independent Online News (LION) association seems to be answering the sustainability, or survivability question, quite well.

That was one of the messages at the group’s inaugural annual meeting this past weekend in Chicago. (LION is the year-old group that was created to carry on the work of Reynolds Fellow (class of 2009-2010) Michele McLellan, who was at the meeting and continues her work helping these sites grow at

These sites focus on extremely local news and community engagement or niche subjects. At the gathering, some founders talked about hiring. Some talked about limping along with fewer employees. But nobody talked about going away.

At one of the first sessions on Oct. 4, panel moderator Susan Leathers, of BrentWord Communications, which operates three sites in suburban Nashville, asked the crowd how many operated sites for just one year. A few hands went up. Two years? A few more. And so on until she got to: “Five years or more?” That’s when a majority of hands went up and then quickly came down to applaud loudly.

A lot has changed in five years but Leathers summed up the evolution quite well when she reminded the crowd: “Content is king. If you don’t have content you don’t have value. If you don’t have value you can’t sell advertising.”

And this group of mostly journalists turned entrepreneurs has been steadily learning more and more each year about running and growing a business. For example, Leathers again noted that she and her business partner, Kelly Gilifillan, are ready to move considering themselves businesswomen to moving up to “bad-ass” businesswomen.

It’s not a question of surviving for a number of these sites. Now they want to thrive.

Perhaps the best indication that these sites are creating value, engaging their communities and taking advantage of new opportunities came in the kinds of best practices and suggestions that were offered during the “60 ideas in 60 minutes” panel.

The group didn’t get to 60 but that’s not the point. The sophisticated and smart thinking that bounced around the auditorium was impressive. Here’s a sampling of the ideas from these veteran online publishers:


San Angelo LiveJoe Hyde, of San Angelo (Texas) LIVE, urged folks to tame the sometimes chaotic publishing schedule that is part of online journalism by setting a deadline tied to a product, like an email newsletter, so everyone knows when to get their content finished.


PotomacLocal.comUriah Kiser, of in northern Virginia, and Scott Brodbeck, of and suburban Washington, D.C., said offering the ability to organizations to input their own event details into their sites’ calendars saved them a tremendous amount of time and improved the listings. “We were always deluged with emails from people wanting us to cover their events. Now, they can pay to have their event listed as a featured event and include a photo,” Brodbeck said.


Kiser said he started a philanthropic program and partners with non-profit organizations to help them raise money by sharing ad revenue. They recently were able to launch a new real estate section by working with 15 non-profits through this program.


NoozhawkKim Clark, from of Santa Barbara, Calif., introduced the group to Scoop a stuffed hawk (with squawking functionality) that is a fixture at community events and makes sales calls too.


DavidsonNews.netDavid Boraks, of and in North Carolina, said events are a great way to drive traffic to the site. The most successful event he had was probably the most creative and the easiest to put together. It was a beer crawl. “It turns out that there’s one thing people are far more likely to pay for — beer.”


Yellowstonegate.comRuffin Prevost, of and Coy, Wyo., said he noticed that one of the most frequent searches about Yellowstone National Park was “Where is Yellowstone located” so he wrote a story with a bunch of facts and helpful information to garner some of the traffic.


CapeCodToday.comJulie Brooks, of in Massachusetts, said she hired a sales and operations consultant who recommended that she adopt a relatively standard business practice of having advertisers pay in advance. Now, advertisers either pay in full or have a credit card on file to pay monthly. And all contracts need to auto-renew.


MyEdmondsNews.comTherera Wippel, of in suburban Seattle, said her company’s great relationship with the school district created an opportunity to launch a live streaming service of high school sporting events called SLSN (SoundLive Sports Network). It’s a lot of work but very popular and continues to build the education partnership.

Randy Picht  
Executive Director


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