Revenue for hundreds of local news orgs went up in 2021, according to new data

The median annual revenue for members of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers went up by 33% between 2020 and 2021, according to newly released data from the professional organization.

The financial data — self-reported by roughly 400 local news organizations — showed the median annual revenue rose from $94,000 in 2020 to $125,000 in 2021. More than half of LION members reported an increase in revenue between 2020 and 2021. A post on the LION website credits the success to increased philanthropic and member support, as well as the peer-to-peer help LION helps facilitate.

Chris Krewson, executive director of LION, said he believes a healthier ad market in 2021 is also part of the success — but noted that was an educated guess, because his organization didn’t ask specific questions about advertising dollars. The types of advertisers featured on member sites suggested improvements in the ad market for local news organizations, he said.

“Take a look at the advertisers on most LION sites. They’re smaller local businesses, which will need customers,” Krewson told me. “We’re not talking about perfume ads or national efforts to launch new products, etc. It’s almost no programmatic dollars.”

After a couple of random clicks around their member list, that looked about right. Grain Valley News, in Missouri, shows advertising from a local chiropractor, local dentist, local gym, local bar called “Captain’s Sports Lounge,” and several church services. Featured sponsorships on BoiseDev — a statewide site in Idaho — included two local credit unions and a summer camp, in addition to regional arms of Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance and a restoration service. The Haitian Times, based in New York, showed ads for a jewelry shop and an arts festival, along with a single banner of programmatic advertising at the bottom of the homepage.

Even some of the organization’s smallest newsrooms were able to generate six figures in revenue. In 2021, more than 50 LION members with just one or two full-time employees made more than $100,000 in annual revenue. In the post, LION staff said this added up to “a landscape in which an independent news business with only one or two full-time employees can reliably earn more than $100,000 in annual revenue.” It’s worth noting, though, that with LION reporting that 60% of their 400+ members have just one or two full-time employees, that means there’s roughly 200 other news organizations of that size that aren’t making $100,000 per year in annual revenue.

Among for-profit newsrooms, 76% said direct-sold ads were among their top three revenue streams. (The other most common revenue streams were memberships and subscriptions.) For nonprofit outlets, money from philanthropies and foundations (74%), small gifts (71%), and major gifts (47%) were the most commonly cited top revenue streams. Selling memberships was a top three revenue stream for just 25% of nonprofit LION members.

LION also celebrated a 71% increase in membership in the last year and that 22% of their founders identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color in 2022 — up from 17% in 2021.

You can read more about the data they collected from their members here.

Airplane photo by Martin Adams used under an Unsplash license.

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