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Jan. 12, 2021, 10:40 a.m.
Business Models

Tiny News Collective aims to launch 500 new local news organizations in three years

At least half of the new newsrooms will be “based in communities that are unserved or underserved, run by founders who have historically been shut out.”

Starting a local news organization from scratch is difficult, confusing, and expensive. Reaching sustainability? Even harder. Enter The Tiny News Collective, a new venture from News Catalyst and LION [Local Independent Online News] Publishers.

The project will offer entrepreneurial journalists a tech stack, business training, legal assistance, and back-office services like payroll for around $100 a month. From the announcement:

[We’re] proud to announce a new effort to make the path to journalism entrepreneurship easier: The Tiny News Collective, a new partnership providing the tools, resources and commonwealth of knowledge to help people build sustainable news organizations that reflect and serve their communities.

The project is a collaboration between News Catalyst and LION Publishers, along with a group of industry leaders and partners. The Collective isn’t trying to “save” local journalism as we know it. We are empowering people to build something new and better: a true, ground-up ecosystem of diverse, locally focused newsrooms that are from and for local communities.

Our mission is to help bring equity into the news and information ecosystem by democratizing the process of starting sustainable local news businesses and supporting people who have been historically excluded from media and media ownership.

We will do this at scale: Our goal is to nurture and grow 500 sustainable local news organizations over the next three years, at least half of them based in communities that are unserved or underserved, run by founders who have historically been shut out.

Sharing resources between startups will get Tiny News on the way but reaching their goal of 500 new local news outlets — with half based in underserved communities — will require recruiting from outside the journalism industry, said Kara Meyberg Guzman, a Tiny News board member who co-founded Santa Cruz Local. Meyberg Guzman worked in a traditional local newsroom before striking out on her own and said some Tiny News founders will come from a similar career path. But she says Tiny News can’t end their search for new founders there.

“Newsrooms tend to be staffed by older white men. How are we going to break the mold if we only recruit from within a problematic system?” she said. “Our founders might be organizers, nonprofit workers or plugged into their communities another way — they know how to find the pulse of what’s happening and they want to serve by telling stories, lifting up voices not often heard and delivering accurate information.”

“We’re not here to swoop into communities and ‘save’ local journalism,” she added. “We want to support people who are part of and are deeply invested in their communities, and give them the training, financial and backroom support to make it easier to own and operate a local newsroom.”

We’ve seen other organizations trying to kickstart new local newsrooms by encouraging an enterprising individual or two to make the leap. As we wrote in May, the network IndieGraf, based in Canada, thinks of itself as a tech and business engine for bootstrapping journalists who want to launch a digital news operation, but don’t have the resources to hire their own developers or fund splashy marketing campaigns. (They’ve since announced plans to expand into the United States and launched The Resolve, an outlet focused on Black, Indigenous, and people of color in Canada.)

Tiny News hopes to reach people who aren’t already in news-making networks through social media advertising, an SMS campaign, partnering with libraries, an email newsletter course to help prospective founders prepare applications, and translating marketing materials into Spanish.

Meyberg Guzman said they’re still brainstorming recruitment strategies — “There’s very little precedent for this work, and I think we’re approaching this with some humility. We’d love some help and ideas.” — and working on a way to help subsidize living expenses for new founders of color.

A startup’s growing pains are real — and not limited to the first few months. Meyberg Guzman said she went without a salary for more than a year and still pays herself less than she made at the local newspaper.

“I know for many prospective founders of color, a huge barrier is financial security. It’s scary to leave a steady job, go without health insurance, etc.” Meyberg Guzman said. “I know I was only able to establish Santa Cruz Local because my husband has a steady job and health insurance.”

Santa Cruz Local has grown during the pandemic and celebrated 700 paying subscribers last month. Meyberg Guzman and Tiny News Collective hope they can convince founders that — with resources, adaptable technology, and a growing network — achieving sustainability as a brand-new local newsroom is possible hundreds of times over.

POSTED     Jan. 12, 2021, 10:40 a.m.
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