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March 19, 2024, 11:22 a.m.

Find your people: These groups bring digital news orgs together for learning, sharing, and venting

Confuse your INNs with your LIONs, your ANNOs with your ASLNs? There’s no problem a Venn diagram can’t solve.

Do you have an INNie or an outie? Are you a LION or a lamb? Speaking of which: Who’s your favorite fictional big cat — Simba or ASLaN? And in which ANNO Domini were you born?

Look, I’m sorry about that previous paragraph. But the digital local news space is stuffed full of acronyms whose meanings are unclear to the uninitiated. (My colleague Sophie Culpepper recently told you about the most recent amalgam, the Alliance of Nonprofit News Outlets.) It’s confusing.

So I thought it might be useful to lay out some of the major trade associations for (mostly) local digital news outlets — and which news orgs belong to which. Here’s a giant Venn diagram laying out six such groups — the Institute for Nonprofit News, LION [Local Independent Online News] Publishers, the Alliance of Nonprofit News Outlets, the Alliance for Sustainable Local News, Statewide News Collective, and Engaged Cities — and a sampling of each one’s members.1 I’ll describe them all in more depth below.

Institute for Nonprofit News (416 members)

LION Publishers (517 members)

Alliance of Nonprofit News Outlets (42 members)

Statewide News Collective (32 members)

Alliance for Sustainable Local News (6 members)

Engaged Cities (9 members)

Two of these groups, INN and LION, are much larger that the rest and, together, represent a major slice of all American local digital-native news outlets. In the Venn diagram above, every news outlet you see is a member of INN, LION, or both.

Institute for Nonprofit News (416 members): INN was founded in 2009 as the Investigative News Network and, while it changed to its current name in 2015, its membership retains some of its historic investigative tilt. As the name suggests, it’s only for nonprofit news orgs, not their for-profit peers in the digital news world. And it includes quite a few national news orgs, not just local ones; as of last year, local outlets made up about half of its membership. It describes itself as “a new kind of news network: nonprofit, nonpartisan and dedicated to public service” and sees itself as “building a nonprofit news movement.” Its staff page lists 23 people, led by executive director/CEO Karen Rundlet, until recently of the Knight Foundation. Dues range from $150 to $1,000 per year, depending on a member outlet’s annual revenue. INN’s most recent annual report, from 2022, lists $4.875 million in revenue.

LION Publishers (517 members): “LION” stands for Local Independent Online News, and that sums up its members well. Founded in 2012, its origins were more in the hyperlocal news space, where filling a community’s basic information needs were more the focus than large-scale investigations. While nonprofits are welcome, for-profit news outlets are central to the work; LION describes its mission as helping “independent news entrepreneurs…build and run better businesses.” Its staff page lists 15 people, led by executive director Chris Krewson, previously of Spirited Media. Dues range from $150 to $550 per year, depending on a member outlet’s annual revenue. LION’s most recent annual report, from 2022, lists $3.972 million in revenue.

The next two groups, ANNO and ASLN, aim to represent distinct segments of the digital local news sector.

Alliance of Nonprofit News Outlets (42 members): ANNO is the new kid on the block, having been founded as a mutual-aid network in August 2023. Its members are mostly small-to-medium local nonprofit outlets, and ANNO prides itself on being lean: “no dues, no staff, no board, and no office,” as well as little administrative structure. It describes itself as a “network of nonprofit news organizations that work on collaborative projects and encourage funders to invest more money in local and regional nonprofit journalism.” ANNO grew out of its members’ efforts to lobby major journalism funders for a larger emphasis on smaller outlets — especially though direct funding via unrestricted grants.

Alliance for Sustainable Local News (6 members): ASLN is also a newcomer, launching in February 2023. If ANNO is primarily about serving the news industry’s featherweights, ASLN is for the middleweights who aspire to heavyweight status. It debuted with just six members: The Baltimore Banner, Block Club Chicago, The Colorado Sun, The Daily Memphian, Long Beach Post, and Lookout Local in Santa Cruz. Those aren’t big organizations by the standards of 20th-century metro newspapers, but they’re huge compared to the three- or four-person shops you can find lots of in, say, LION or ANNO. Together, those six “employ more than 275 full-time journalists and business-side team members, paying professional salaries and developing a new, needed pipeline of diverse, across-the-generations mission-driven talent.” They each are either already the largest newsrooms in their cities or aspire to be soon — primary news sources rather than supplemental ones, “intent on replacing flagging daily newspapers that have abandoned their own long-time missions.” (Five of the six are in cities whose dailies are being or have recently been gutted by Alden Global Capital.) ASLN is not tied to a specific ownership model; Lookout is a public benefit corporation, while the Memphian, Block Club, and Banner are nonprofit. The Colorado Sun and Long Beach Post each transitioned to nonprofit status just three months ago — the Sun from a PBC, the Post from for-profit.

These last two are each “communities of practice” based at the Lenfest Institute that bring together specific segments of the industry for knowledge sharing.

Statewide News Collective (32 members): Launched in 2022, the Statewide News Collective is a community of, well, statewide news outlets. These typically (though not always) have a particular focus on state government and state politics, and they face slightly different questions around audience and revenue than a city- or neighborhood-based outlet. “How do statewide publishers engage untapped or underserved audiences and meet their information needs in an equitable way? Are there opportunities to widen the top of the funnel and reach audiences beyond highly engaged readers already invested in state coverage?” SNC was founded by the Lenfest Institute, The Texas Tribune’s RevLab, and Spotlight PA.

Engaged Cities (9 members): This community of practice was founded in 2023 by Lenfest and the New York City news site The City. Its members work “together to tackle common challenges, share innovative approaches, and serve as a sounding board for peers.” Those members are a mix of public media (LAist/KPCC, Chicago Public Media/WBEZ), metro-wide outlets (The City, The Baltimore Banner, Houston Landing), and more targeted urban outlets (Outlier Media, MLK50, Berkeleyside/Oaklandside).

I’ll note here two other industry associations that cover adjacent spaces, though with more corporate memberships. Digital Content Next is a trade association for major online publishers. That mostly means national and global for-profit brands — think Vox Media, Politico, Hearst, Condé Nast, The New York Times — but its 53 members also include a few outlets you’ll find on this chart, like The Marshall Project and The Texas Tribune. And the News/Media Alliance is the linear descendant of the former trade associations of daily newspapers (the Newspaper Association of America) and magazines (the Magazine Publishers Association). The NMA declined to release a list of its members to me, but it says it represents “over 2,200 member organizations.” The overwhelming majority of those are newspapers and magazines, but it also includes some digital-native outlets, including Alternet, G/O Media, and Raw Story.

Image via Midjourney.

  1. To repeat that: This is just a sampling, not a complete list of each group’s members, based on their public member lists — which could contain errors. News orgs join or leave groups like these all the time, so consider this at best a snapshot of a moment in time. []
Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email (joshua_benton@harvard.edu) or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     March 19, 2024, 11:22 a.m.
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