The Swellesley Report is far from being alone on the independent local news front in the United States, with some publishers addressing communities a fraction of Wellesley’s size, others reimagining local news coverage for major cities like Philly and Denver, and still others covering everything in between. I traveled to Chicago this past week to attend the LION Summit, a confab for local independent online news outfits. While doing Swellesley for the past dozen years has been a serious education, we know we have a ton more to learn, and the dozens of other attendees were great teachers.
I funded my trip in part through a grant in exchange for posting about some sessions (See: Journalists warned: ‘We cannot be ignorant of our privilege’ and Richland Source finds way to millennials’ hearts with free music & beer). Yeah, that’s kind of how people in this field get things done.
Though as I learned at the summit, new sources of serious funding are starting to emerge to back publishers in so-called “news deserts” that have either been abandoned by a shrinking mainstream press or that have always been overlooked by the press. Publishers are getting creative in many ways, collaborating with each other as well as entities such as colleges, going the nonprofit route, and doing whatever it takes to fuel their endeavors.
They’re also being creative on the content side of things. I spoke with one publisher from Tennessee that has enlisted a bunch of football moms to crowdsource game coverage (he even supplies them with new phones). A small site in east Texas crowdfunded a tour of taco joints in an effort to get people from the city to visit parts they’d never ventured into before. A Chicago-area publisher trains citizen journalists at its newsroom.
Attendees were in a big-time sharing mood. One session promised 40 ideas in 40 minutes, and delivered. Chatter over lunch was peppered with numbers on website visitors and how much people were charging for ads.
I even had the chance to volunteer Swellesley for a public critique by a couple of design experts, as you can see in the video below (which I’m sharing since the review was mainly positive).
I returned to Wellesley with dozens of brilliant new ideas, some of which we might even implement. So stay tuned…