ELi Goes to the Big City

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Thursday, September 29, 2016, 11:17 am
Alice Dreger, Publisher

As I write, ELi’s Managing Editor Ann Nichols and I are on an Amtrak train speeding towards Chicago. Today through Saturday we’ll be attending the LION Publishers conference at Columbia College in Chicago. “LION” stands for “local independent online news.” That’s ELi!

We found out about LION last year when, through my academic work, I met the folks who run Berkeleyside, the independent online news source for Berkeley, California. Since then, we’ve been inspired and educated by our LION colleagues.

This evening we’ll spend several hours networking, and tomorrow we start early with a full day that will include, according to the schedule, “Sustainability, are we there yet? Google AMP, drone reporting, local-national partnerships, FOIA, effective ad sales, measuring impact, local investigations, engaging communities, and more.”

Saturday’s events promise to cover “diversifying revenue, hiring salespeople, competing with legacy media, monetizing video and podcasting, nonprofit fundraising, monetizing local sports coverage, training on Google tools, and more.”

Not all of these topics fit ELi’s current model, but a lot of them do, and we can’t wait to soak it all up. When I asked Ann to give me her list of what she wants to learn at LION, here’s what she sent back:

  • How to reach readers via Facebook in the days of the newest algorithm.
  • Whether other publications are having lengthy delays in approval of Facebook "ads," which in our case are time-sensitive because they're news.
  • How to target/reach/appeal to demographic areas where we aren't doing as well as we could.
  • How to raise money without annoying the heck out of our readers.
  • What to do about a major entity (like ELPS) that refuses to respond to reporters’ inquiries. Do we ignore, ask and expect nothing, wheedle and beg?
  • How to get information about running a police blotter.

I would add to this that I am hoping we learn:

  • Grant and other income opportunities of which we aren’t aware.
  • Ways to increase efficiency with regard to getting our material to our readers. (We currently manually tweet, post to Facebook, and use MailChimp for our real-time and weekly email news alerts.)
  • Ways beyond FOIA to get the information we’re not getting, and ways to use FOIA that are more productive.
  • How to work with reports of different generations who have different attitudes towards various technologies.
  • Opportunities to consider how we might cleave our divisions of labor more effectively.

Regardless, we are sure we are going to learn a lot that we need to learn! The service Ann and I lead at ELi draws on our own pretty extensive experiences as East Lansing neighborhood leaders, as public service providers, and as professional writers and editors, but there’s no question that all of that could use supplemental education in local online independent news provision.

By the way, LION gave ELi a general travel grant of $250 for this conference. Of course, that won’t cover all of the expenses—conference registration, the train (cheaper than driving and parking), and hotel. So if you love what we’re doing, think about making a donation today to let us know you support us. Thank you in advance.


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