By:
December 15, 2020

In a time when each passing week seems to bring with it another local newspaper closure, two groups are trying to buck the trend.

The initial goal is 10 new local outlets throughout the country by April. And then 490 more over the next three years.

Dubbed the Tiny News Collective, the initiative from LION Publishers and News Catalyst is an attempt to lower the barrier to starting a local news organization by providing the necessary resources, training and technology. Applications to be part of the first cohort of newsroom founders will open in January, and no background in entrepreneurship or even journalism is required. The project will guide each founder through the process of starting their own company.

“There’s just so many little things that are not journalism that come along with starting your own newsroom like payroll, LLC status, how to create a newsletter,” said board member Kara Meyberg Guzman, who co-founded the Santa Cruz Local, a digital news site in California. “Everybody’s just, until now, been learning on their own, hacking together different tools, finding their own way. But what Tiny News Collective offers is a ready-to-go package that entrepreneurs can use.”

The project is being supported by News Catalyst, a program that provides technology to newsrooms, and LION Publishers, an association for local independent online news publishers, along with other industry leaders and organizations including the Google News Initiative. Together, they hope to provide participants with the tools needed to start a local newsroom for up to $100 per month.

That price will include all the technology an online newsroom needs, including a publishing system, a website and a newsletter platform. Tiny News Collective also hopes to provide services including libel insurance, accounting, legal assistance and payroll and administrative support.

The biggest barrier to starting a newsroom is the cost, according to board member André Natta, the principal at Urban Conversations. The collaboration hopes that by reducing those costs, it will be  easier for people underrepresented in the journalism industry — including people of color and women and gender diverse people — to start their own newsroom.

The project is one of several aimed at helping rebuild local news after a decade of decline, particularly in local newspapers. Others include Report for America, which places reporters in local newsrooms for up to two years, The American Journalism Project, a project aimed at capturing venture philanthropy money for local news, and national/local news partnerships through ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network.

When selecting potential founders, the Collective will look for applicants who seek to provide coverage to communities unserved or underserved by current media.

“Those voices tend to get lost right now, at least on the local level,” Natta said. “Any opportunity to go in and provide more resources for those communities by those communities, I think, is essential to a healthy news ecosystem.”

In addition to providing resources, the Collective will serve as a community of local newsrooms that can all learn from each other. All newsroom founders will automatically receive a membership with LION Publishers — which includes more than 300 publishers — and have access to training to prepare them to run a journalism business.

“When the initial excitement of starting the site goes away and you’re worried, you need that support,” said LION Publishers executive director Chris Krewson. “You need to be able to turn to somebody who’s either going through it the same way you are right now or has gone through it to be able to hear, ‘It’ll be okay.’”

Each newsroom will start off as a nonprofit LLC as part of the Collective. But the ultimate goal is for them to eventually break off into independent companies once they’ve found a business model and news product that works for them.

“A benefit of how we’re setting up is that initially you will launch one way, but we’re not telling you to stay in that lane,” Natta said. “We want to make sure that you’re given every chance to succeed, so you can experiment with what that looks like for you and for the people who you are serving.”

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Angela Fu is a reporter for Poynter. She can be reached at afu@poynter.org or on Twitter @angelanfu.
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