The coronavirus recession hit the local news industry hard at a time when it hadn't even recovered from the previous crisis in 2008.
"We're certainly coming up on or in the middle of something even bigger," Lion Publishers executive director Chris Krewson said on the Digiday Podcast. "So I don't see much hope of them recovering from this one either."
Krewson obviously isn't rooting for a slow recovery, even as he predicts one. "That's what we've identified as the trend that we need to be ready to help on," he said.
Lion — which stands for local independent online news and has staffers outside Philadelphia and in Vermont, Washington State and Kansas — is aimed at helping small news organizations, whether for or not-for-profit, reach sustainability.
To that end, it encourages experimentation and a break with the staid business models that lost out to the ad dollar dominance of Google and Facebook.
"There's a lot of ways that the future of news is going to look, and we just have to be more forgiving and open and able to see more of these experiments so that we can see which of them are worth continuing and adding fuel to," Krewson said.
In Memphis, for instance, two Lion members are adopting different approaches. The Daily Memphian has set up a traditional shop, betting on a subscription model and hiring a few dozen reporters to challenge the Gannett-owned incumbent with broad coverage of metropolitan news, from education to the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies.
In a nutshell, "the overhead is high," Krewson said.
Not so with MLK50, a smaller team focused on covering "poverty, power and public policy," in its own words. It recently teamed up with ProPublica for high-impact reporting that led to large-scale debt forgiveness in the city.
"I'm not saying either approach is better than the other. I'm just saying there's a lot of ways to slice the ways that local news can have an impact," Krewson said. "And it doesn't necessarily have to be with 30 plus people replacing what the newspaper used to do, just without print."