The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Facebook Journalism Project are pleased to announce 15 North American newsrooms will participate in the second round of the Local News Membership Accelerator. More than half are led by women or people of color, and their approaches to driving readers’ support span an equally diverse range of business models. 

The group will meet three times in Austin and work with news industry experts to strengthen their membership strategies both on and off Facebook. Training is coordinated by Tim Griggs, an independent consultant/advisor and former New York Times and Texas Tribune executive.

“The Lenfest Institute is pleased to support this diverse group of publishers as they work together to create sustainable membership models for local news,” said Lenfest Institute CEO and Executive Director Jim Friedlich. “We were impressed by this year’s participants, by their broad range of business models and by their diversity of leadership and audience. We look forward to reporting lessons learned to the broader local news industry.”

In alphabetical order, the Membership Accelerator participants are:

  • Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization that provides local news coverage on education issues in seven American communities. 
  • The Colorado Sun, a journalist-owned online news outlet based in Denver, Colorado. It launched in 2018 with funding from the blockchain journalism startup Civil and a Kickstarter campaign.
  • Detour Media, a newsletter-based outlet amplifying community in Detroit through neighborhood-focused reporting, engagement events, a citizen journalism fellowship and newsletter production partnerships.
  • The Devil Strip, based in Akron, Ohio, which is becoming a community-owned co-op. Readers can purchase shares in the magazine, which then affords them a voice in shaping its future. The Devil Strip’s goal is to not only create a new revenue stream, but also to create a more civically engaged and socially connected city.
  • KUNR, a flagship National Public Radio station in Reno, Nevada.
  • The Narwhal, an ad-free, nonprofit online magazine that publishes in-depth and investigative journalism about Canada’s natural world. 
  • New Hampshire Public Radio, an NPR member station based in Concord, New Hampshire is the state’s largest (and only) statewide radio news service, known for its in-depth local and national news coverage, NPR programming and the best of public radio. The station also produces innovative, nationally-known podcasts like Bear Brook, Civics 101 and Outside/In.
  • La Noticia, The Spanish-Language Newspaper, based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • San José Spotlight, the California city’s first nonprofit news organization dedicated to political and business reporting.
  • Scalawag, a nonprofit online magazine that tells stories of the American South.
  • The Sprawl, an independent, crowdfunded, ad-free news site based in Calgary, Canada. It “pops up” to cover specific issues for a set time period before hibernating and preparing to cover another issue. The site has experimented with creating a members-only print newspaper, setting up a newsroom in the city’s public library, and partnering with students from local high schools and universities.
  • Voice of OC, a nonprofit newsroom in Orange County, California.
  • Washington City Paper, an alt-weekly newspaper serving the D.C. metro area. 
  • Wausau Pilot & Review, an independent nonprofit newsroom that covers public policy and quality of life issues in central Wisconsin.
  • WURD Radio, Pennsylvania’s only African-American owned and operated talk radio station, based in Philadelphia. 

Most publishers were nominated to participate by industry groups and previous participants of the 2019 US Membership Accelerator. NPR member stations were chosen from a pool of applications coordinated with NPR. 

These Accelerator publishers are united by a focus on reader revenue that supports meaningful journalism.

“Advertising is our present, but membership is going to be our future,” said Duc Luu, director of development at Washington City Paper. “For us to be a successful and sustainable community news organization, the majority of our revenues will need to come from a growing membership base instead of a declining advertising base. We want to leave this Accelerator with a roadmap to make that happen, including a membership funnel and strategy for securing major donations.”

For many organizations, their participation comes at a pivotal moment for their publications. 

“We believe this is the year The Devil Strip must take its biggest leap forward as an organization, if we’re really going to serve our community,” said publisher Chris Horne. “So joining the Accelerator is huge because it means every member of our core team receives the training and coaching we need for our growth, while being in a tremendous cohort with other publishers who are pushing the field forward. The conversations, the ideas, the experimental framework — it’s all thrilling.”

This Accelerator group is also experimenting with single-subject news sites with a local focus. 

“As Chalkbeat continues to expand to more states and cities, we’re building a strong and diverse audience of teachers and education professionals,” said Becca Aaronson, director of product. “By learning from our peers in the Accelerator, we’ll find new ways to generate reader revenue aligned with our mission to inform and engage local education communities.”

The two Canadian newsrooms joining the 2020 Membership Accelerator, The Narwhal and The Sprawl, are part of a growing sector of local news startups in Canada. Another Canadian newsroom and Accelerator alum, The Discourse, has called this “the beginnings of a movement.” The Discourse took lessons from the 2019 Audience Development Accelerator and created their own program, the Independent News Challenge, which supports entrepreneurial journalists and small publishers. 

“The Narwhal is excited to learn from industry leaders about how to scale up its efforts to build a thriving, reader-funded online magazine sustained through membership,” said editor-in-chief Emma Gilchrist. “As a pioneer of nonprofit journalism in Canada, we look forward to bringing lessons home and lighting the way for new digital startups.”

Publishers in the prior Membership Accelerator collectively generated more than $3.5 million in lifetime value and grew their newsletter lists by an average net gain of about 1,000 email subscribers each month over a six-month grant term. 

The 2020 Membership Accelerator participants are among 500 news industry leaders joining the Accelerator in more than a dozen countries this year, bringing the program’s membership to more than 1,000 global participants. Facebook works with the The Lenfest Institute to manage the Accelerator in the US and with the International Center for Journalists globally.

If you’d like to be notified of Accelerator opportunities, please email [email protected]

Results provided by the publishers.

The Accelerator Program

The Facebook Journalism Project’s Accelerator program helps news publishers build sustainable businesses. Funded and organized by the Facebook Journalism Project (FJP), each Accelerator  includes a three-month period of hands-on workshops led by news industry veterans, grants administered by The Lenfest Institute and other non-profit journalism organizations, and regular reports on best business practices. The Accelerator’s executive director is Tim Griggs, an independent consultant/advisor and former New York Times and Texas Tribune executive.

Local News Solutions

The Lenfest Institute provides free tools and resources for local journalism leaders to develop sustainable strategies to serve their communities.

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