7 replicable revenue and tech ideas for small news sites

Kelsey Ryan
Oct 13, 2020 · 4 min read
Documented launched a WhatsApp news app in Spanish after learning that’s how many undocumented Spanish-speakers get their news and information. Documented sent out a weekly roundup of immigration news, had direct one-on-one conversations with readers and shared articles into illustrations.

As an association, our main role at LION Publishers is to support our members in building financially sustainable news businesses. This week we’re introducing you to seven LION members who are finalists for our second annual 2020 LION Awards and who launched new technology and revenue ideas that contributed to their bottom line.

All of these examples are replicable or adaptable for other news organizations, and we hope by sharing their successes, we can help inspire other small news businesses across the industry. We believe that peer learning is at the core of a successful news business, and that communities — including the LION membership — are strongest when everyone can be a student and a teacher.

Check out our full list of finalists — winners will be announced on Oct. 22 during a virtual awards ceremony, which is free for anyone to attend. (RSVP here!)

Here are technology and revenue ideas you can try at your news organization:

  1. Create a way for cash-strapped local businesses to advertise.

Detour Detroit launched its Keep Detroit Local initiative to help small businesses advertise during the pandemic. For every current or new Detour member who signs up at certain levels, Detour Detroit donates a free ad (normally valued at $200) to local entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders. “We saw our community of local entrepreneurs struggling,” says Ashley Woods Branch, founder and CEO. “Keep Detroit Local helped us grow total membership numbers by 30% and more than double our monthly recurring membership revenue during COVID-19, while providing more than 60 free ads to local entrepreneurs.”

2. Launch an in-house marketing agency.

Richland Source created Source Brand Solutions, a digital marketing agency that provides a platform to amplify the voice of business in the local market. Messaging is at the core and SBS builds around that foundation. “Source Brand Solutions has transitioned from an ad department for a local publisher into a full marketing agency that can offer a suite of services that may or may not include the publishing side of Richland Source,” wrote Richland Source Editor Larry Phillips. “This allows a broader option of solutions for its clients.”

3. Create interactive products that update throughout a news cycle.

The Montana Free Press launched an interactive election guide, updated regularly throughout the election season, to provide voters with a one-stop shop for reliable information, including how and where to vote, information on candidates, visualized state and federal campaign finance data, and curated links to media coverage. The tech stack, which is open source, is available here on GitHub, and makes it possible for a single staffer to manage. “The availability of this resource drives significant organic traffic to our website during primary and general election season and is used by voters, activists, and campaigns to help better understand the election landscape,” wrote John Adams, executive director and editor.

4. Create a product geared toward business needs.

Taproot Edmonton created a curated newsletter for businesses, called “Spotlight,” to earn business-to-business revenue. “We are applying the same skills we use for our public-facing, journalistic products, which are newsletters curating what is happening locally on a given topic, but we are narrowing the focus to the particular community and information needs of the customer,” says Mack Male, cofounder and CEO/publisher. “This product solves a real problem for our customers, which makes it easy for them to justify spending $7,500 to $20,000 a year on our service.”

5. Meet audiences on the platforms they’re using.

Documented launched a WhatsApp news app in Spanish after learning that’s how many undocumented Spanish-speakers get their news and information. Documented sent out a weekly roundup of immigration news, had direct one-on-one conversations with readers and shared articles into illustrations. “Through providing a private and personal experience for each of our users, we have gained their trust and we have featured several of our community members in feature stories,” said Mazin Sidahmed, cofounding editor.

6. Create ways to monetize reader-generated content.

VT Digger created a reader services platform for readers to submit and pay small-dollar amounts for their own press releases and obituaries. An extra advantage? An organic SEO boost. The platform is also beta testing a jobs classified section. VT Digger anticipates generating about $50,000 a year from reader services in 2021. “The portals have freed up editorial capacity while increasing SEO and revenue at the same time,” wrote Libbie Pattison, campaign coordinator and executive assistant.

7. Create comprehensive data projects that readers need

The Nevada Independent launched a comprehensive COVID-19 data and infographic page for all Nevadans, tracking statewide and county stats. The page uses interactive graphics from Infogram, a web-based data visualization program, and data-scraping coding that is relatively simple to replicate. “We are reliably told that the governor and his staff and many health district and elected officials rely on it daily, in addition to our ‘regular’ readers,” says Elizabeth Thompson, managing editor.

We look forward to seeing you at our second annual virtual awards ceremony on Oct. 22 at 5 p.m. PT/7 p.m. CT/8 p.m. ET. RSVP here! Attendees can log on 30 minutes before we kick off the awards ceremony so they can virtually network and socialize with other LION members and people who care deeply about supporting the independent news industry. Special thanks to our presenting sponsor, The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, and to our keynote sponsor, Google News Initiative.

LION Publishers

Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers is a…

LION Publishers

Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers is a journalism association helping local news entrepreneurs build and grow financially sustainable small businesses.

Kelsey Ryan

Written by

Membership manager LION Publishers helping independent news publishers in the U.S. and Canada build financially sustainable news businesses.

LION Publishers

Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers is a journalism association helping local news entrepreneurs build and grow financially sustainable small businesses.