I want to help you launch a digital news site in eight weeks

Apply for the GNI Startups Boot Camp by August 8

Phillip Smith
LION Publishers

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Journalism startup team from Fresno, CA at an in-person version of the Boot Camp (2019). Photo: Phillip Smith
Journalism startup team from Fresno, CA at an in-person version of the Boot Camp (2019). Photo: Phillip Smith

I don’t know what I enjoy more: running a boot camp that helps participants launch a journalism-first startup in just eight weeks, or the one-on-one coaching sessions that continue with each newly minted founder in the months that follow the boot camp. They are both exhilarating and deeply rewarding experiences, and they are very different.

Take Travers Johnson, for example, who joined the boot camp with an idea for a website and newsletter that would cover LGBTQ+ entrepreneurship.

It was one experience to support Travers’s work in the boot camp, during which Travers interviewed his potential readers and sponsors, documented revenue objectives, refined Queerency’s value proposition, tested different ideas, and re-launched the project’s website ahead of a renewed promotional push.

But it is an entirely different thing to witness Travers transform his vision into a reality month after month. Since graduating the boot camp, Queerency has continued to increase the pace at which it publishes new reporting and introduces new products. Queerency has enjoyed viral hit after viral hit on Instagram, while at the same time launching a large, sponsorship-friendly, directory of LGBTQ+ businesses for Pride Month. In short: Queerency’s audience has grown exponentially since launch and has demonstrated product traction again and again.

Being able to appreciate and share these victories with the world is what makes being the director of the GNI Startups Boot Camp one of the best jobs in the world. What would make it even better is reading your application to the program.

Helping journalism entrepreneurs, one small win at a time

Now, you might be thinking “yeah, sure, but you can just cherry pick these ‘on the road to success’ stories to get my attention,” but what if I told you that Queerency had only 50 newsletter subscribers when it entered the boot camp?

Maybe that’s a number that’s familiar to you? It’s often the first “ceiling” that many journalists hit when they go out on their own. It often represents the number of friends and family that an entrepreneur is able to get to sign up in the early days of the idea.

The good news is that this is a ceiling that is entirely possible to break through with the kind of hands-on support, one-on-one coaching, and peer encouragement that you get in this program. And we don’t say goodbye when the program is over: participants continue to receive coaching for a year after the program ends, as well as a membership in LION Publishers.

Let’s take another example: When Bria Felicien applied to the program with the idea for The Black Sportswoman, she had a Substack newsletter, a few pieces published, and a small-but-growing following.

Like Travers, Bria started with fewer than 100 readers, and after months of incremental growth, her newsletter list had plateaued at 300 when Bria joined the boot camp.

Today, less than six months after graduating the boot camp, The Black Sportswoman has more than 1000 subscribers — another small but predictive entrepreneurial victory that I am honored to be able to share with the world.

There are so many more stories from the cohort of brave souls that participated in the 2020 boot camp. You can read about Megan Raposa and the story of Sioux Falls Simplified here on the Google blog. You can listen to Luke Baumgarten talk about the early days of RANGE here on the News Guest podcast. And you can dive deeper into each of the 24 graduates’ projects here.

A simple recipe for success, no magic fairy dust

The simple truth is: We’re not selling magic fairy dust here. There are no promises of huge financial success — or success at all for that matter. The examples above are “human-sized” and realistic examples of early entrepreneurial traction that are the result of damn hard work and ongoing commitment. True grit, basically.

What we promise is that if you apply, get accepted, and show up and give it 110%, we will in turn show up for you again and again. We will put in our 110% effort to help ensure that you are on the best footing possible to build a successful business (or non-profit) around your journalistic vision. We won’t bullshit you. We won’t hold back. We will tell you — as diplomatically as possible — that you need to check your assumptions at the door and start proving that your idea is something that real people actually need in their lives (beyond your immediate family).

We will coach you week after week. Through the ups and the downs. We’ll do our best to get you launched in eight weeks, and then we’ll do our best to help you achieve your goals by whatever metrics you’ve set.

The best part: Normally a program like this would cost at least $5,000 in tuition, but the boot camp will cost you nothing but your time, thanks to the support and partnership of the Google News Initiative.

That’s right: No fees, no tuition, no income sharing. No financial barriers to your success. Just the hands-on support you need to get your big idea off the ground.

Apply for the GNI Startups Boot Camp by August 8.

Real-word case studies make all the difference

If you’d like to “try before you buy,” I encourage you to make time this month to work through the GNI Startups Playbook. Many of the lessons in the playbook are pulled from the boot camp curriculum, and the curriculum pulls from many of the case studies in the playbook.

What’s particularly unique is how much this program pulls from credible, real-world examples of small-scale journalism entrepreneurship.

Take Kara Mayberg Guzman, who co-founded Santa Cruz Local, a podcast-first local newsroom, with a former colleague after deciding to leave her position as Managing Editor at the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Growing just one day at a time and one subscriber at a time, over the last two years, Kara and Stephen have grown Santa Cruz Local into a small-but-sustainable newsroom supported financially by nearly a thousand community members.

Because this boot camp is a program of LION Publishers — a professional association that supports more than 300 local independent online newsrooms — we’re able to find case studies like Kara’s that are more “Main Street” than “Wall Street.” Case studies that will resonate for you because they are within your reach on a reasonable timeline.

We dive into relevant case studies every week to help bring the concepts home with practical examples of how other people — people with the same resource limits that you might have, e.g. a full-time job, limited funding, lack of business experience, etc. — have overcome limitations to bring their vision into the world, and to drive it toward success.

You’ll miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have gone down the journalism entrepreneurship road before. Not all of them succeed. But some of them do. Those who do succeed often reference the mentorship and coaching they received in the early days of their journey — advice and guidance that, more than anything, helped them avoid common pitfalls that can lead to failure.

If you, like them, look out into the world and feel a sense of inspiration — perhaps a calling to produce reporting that really matters to people again — then this program is for you. If you are feeling a sense of being “stuck” in your traditional newsroom job and sense that there must be a way to keep doing what you love — then this is the program for you.

Last year we invited 24 projects into the boot camp, about 30 people in total. These were real people like you. People with children. People with day jobs. People working in newsrooms who needed to keep their involvement quiet until they graduated. People with decades of journalism experience and people with little-to-no journalism experience. People from across the country, from Washington, D.C., to the southern border of Texas, from California to Houston to Atlanta to New York.

Learn more about the boot camp and get inspired to launch your own project at this special conversation and info session with The 19th* co-founder Amanda Zamora.

You have nothing to lose but an hour of your time

If you’ve ever thought about bringing your unique voice to a community or topic that needs more coverage — where that reporting could make a real difference in the world and in people’s lives — I really encourage you to apply. The deadline is August 8.

Perhaps you’ve been talking about doing this with your friends, family, or colleagues for ages and just simply haven’t made any progress? Or perhaps it’s something you’ve simply been thinking about yourself quietly but have not been able to find the time to do?

If that’s your situation, just imagine for a second how it will feel to invest eight short weeks of your time this fall and come out the other side with a project to introduce to the world, and a plan for how to take it to the next level.

(It doesn’t have to be an off-the-shelf blueprint, either. You can develop your own unique plan for your project. Anti-racist newsroom, absolutely. Small-is-beautiful newsroom, hell yes. A state-wide nonprofit newsroom that is run as a co-operative — let’s do it. Holacracy, why not?)

If you only have one hour available between now and August 8, you have enough time to apply to the 2021 GNI Startups Boot Camp — and I promise you that even the simple act of applying will help to move your idea one step further along.

If you have more than one hour, you can start-in on the exercises in the GNI Startups Playbook which will advance your idea even further and make your application that much stronger.

And if you have questions, you can join me and Lisa Heyamoto from LION Publishers for a live Q&A session on July 15 or July 22 on Zoom, or RSVP for a special event with The 19th* co-founder Amanda Zamora on July 26.

From me and all of the people at LION Publishers and Google News Initiative: We invite you to believe in yourself and take this opportunity to make your idea a reality. 👉 https://www.gnistartupsbootcamp.com

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Phillip Smith
LION Publishers

👉 My passion is helping: 💰 Newsrooms make more money; 📈 News startups grow their audience; 🔥 Journalists succeed as entrepreneurs. Let’s talk 📩