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Google News Initiative

Demystifying the process of launching a news business

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As Irene McKisson learned in launching AZ Luminaria, a non-profit, community-centered newsroom in Arizona, building a news business from the ground up is a daunting undertaking. “Before our news startup even had a name — when it was still just an idea — we knew that there were eight million things that we needed to do, we just had no idea what order to do them in,” she says. Like all journalism founders, she had what seemed like an endless list of big decisions to make: What will we report on? Who will our audience be, and how can we reach them? And, of course, how can the business earn enough revenue to sustain and grow?

This is a video call recording of the founder of AZ Luminaria speaking.

The Google News Initiative Startups Playbook, published last year in close partnership with LION Publishers, was designed to help early-stage news entrepreneurs answer these questions and begin building their editorial, distribution, and financial operations.

“The Playbook helped us step back and really assess our market, our audience needs and our revenue plan,” McKisson told us. “When you’re building something from scratch, it’s so helpful to have a place to start or inspiration from other organizations you admire."

Today, GNI and LION are introducing the second edition of the Startups Playbook, which has been built on feedback from many of its 17,000 readers to date. The first edition thoroughly outlined how to build and launch a digital news business, but it largely skipped the why. Why go independent? Why take on the risk of being an entrepreneur? To help would-be founders with these important decisions, we’ve added six founder profiles including the shared motivations that pulled them into news entrepreneurship.

We built the Startups Playbook primarily for aspiring news founders working on an idea, but we also heard from established publishers who said the Resources section was particularly useful. This section has been expanded to include an array of important documents, from business plans to media kits to founder agreements. Recognizing that the industry is in a constant state of change, we’ve also added best practices and case studies centered around the biggest challenges and opportunities facing independent publishers today.

With these updates in place, we hope that the Startups Playbook can continue to be useful to founders like Alicia Benjamin from North Carolina, who used it in founding The Charlotte Voice.

This shows a picture of a woman in front of a brick wall.

Alicia Benjamin, founder of The Charlotte Voice.

“The Playbook helped me understand the importance of testing the viability of our product,” she told us. “By talking with and surveying people in the community, I was able to learn their information needs, which, in turn, allowed me to identify my target audience and the information needs I would try to solve for them. The interactive exercises also challenged me to define what success would look like in the medium term, both financially and journalistically.”

Launching a news business is rarely a straightforward endeavor, and there will never be a silver bullet for success. But through our programs and research, GNI, LION and our partners are learning more all the time about the activities and choices of successful founders, and the revamped GNI Startups Playbook represents the latest in our shared understanding.

We are committed to keeping this resource up-to-date, so that it can continue to guide journalism entrepreneurs as they take their first steps. Over the coming weeks, we look forward to publishing the Playbook in additional languages, which will join the already-live English, Spanish and Portuguese editions. Additionally, we encourage anyone interested in launching their own news business to check out the GNI’s how-to workshop series, while also signing up for LION’s News Founder Challenge: a six-week newsletter series that pairs content from the Playbook with a weekly challenge designed to help aspiring founders refine and test their news business idea.

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