Now available: LMA 2020 Impact Report. Over 700 media companies received $14.35 million in relief funds or to support journalism projects.
When I left the LMA board meeting in Miami on March 11 last year, my five-hour drive home was unsettling to say the least.
Our world was on the verge of shutting down. LMA’s financial health was at stake as in-person meetings were likely to go away, and many of our members faced serious revenue declines, layoffs and furloughs. I felt sick.
I had already put together a disaster plan and presented it to the board. We had a plan to get through this, but it wouldn’t be easy.
Little did we know 2020 would end up being the best financial year in LMA’s history. We ended the year with more than $17 million in revenue — about four times our previous high. Most of this revenue went back to the local media industry in the form of relief funds or support for journalism. And instead of facing layoffs and furloughs of our own, we actually grew our team in 2020 and added senior-level talent that wasn’t financially attainable in the past.
The first thing we did was launch the COVID-19 Local News Fund. More than 200 publishers raised $1.74 million to support their continued coverage of the global pandemic. I know this saved journalism jobs and reduced furloughs/layoffs. The entrepreneurial LMA team worked around the clock to set up individual campaigns on a platform called Givebutter. We set an ambitious goal of $1 million and then blew it away. The support from communities all over the U.S. was incredible. In doing this, we launched a new business that relies on crowdfunding to pay for journalism projects. This initiative was not on our radar for 2020, but was born out of the crisis.
While that effort ramped up, a phone call on a Saturday changed everything. Josh Mabry from Facebook called to talk about a COVID 19 relief fund to help the industry and wanted to know if we would handle the judging and distribution of funds. I had tears streaming down my face knowing what this would mean for so many companies. Over the next two months, we distributed $12.4 million to more than 500 newsrooms. In a survey, 23% of the recipients told us this saved their newsroom from outright extinction.
Not long after that, another Saturday phone call came from Elinor Tatum, publisher of the New York Amsterdam News. It was after the killing of George Floyd. She had an opportunity to raise funds for the Black press but we had to act quickly. My colleague Jay Small put together a Givebutter page on a Sunday while Elinor and I worked on the messaging. Donations started pouring in for the Fund for Black Journalism the next week. This led to the launch of Word in Black and funding from Google News Initiative, Walton Family Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Facebook Journalism Project. In 2021, we’ll launch Word in Black as a national brand focused on solutions to racial inequities in America.
Going into 2020, we were bullish on industry collaboration, journalism funded by philanthropy and sustainability for publishers of color (three of our core pillars). Our strategic plan called for the launch of one collaborative in Chicago and one fund for investigative reporting. We planned to prove out these business models and expand in 2021. Instead we launched three collaboratives in 2020, multiple funds and the Lab for Journalism Funding. I could not have imagined such a scenario during that long car ride home in March.
The lessons from 2020 will stick with our team forever. We can move a lot faster. We can figure things out on the fly. We can launch new businesses without a buttoned-up business plan. Did we make mistakes along the way? You bet we did. Do we have any regrets? Absolutely not. Our sole focus was to help local media companies get through this pandemic and ensure that communities all over North America were getting vital news and information.
Looking ahead to 2021, we’re building quickly on the good work of 2020. Two more collaboratives have been announced (Amplify Ohio and Covering Climate). We launched a data journalism pilot with USC/Crosstown and two media partners and added two industry rock stars to the LMA team – Penny Riordan and Andrew Ramsammy. And more announcements are in the works.
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s resilience. I’m proud to share the LMA 2020 Impact Report.
This blog was originally published on LinkedIn. Comment and join the conversation.