Maple Walker Lloyd is director of development and community engagement for Block Club Chicago, where she works with subscribers, foundations and corporations to expand Block Club’s support base — including through grants, individual donations, advertising, merchandise, subscriptions, and all things fundraising.
Block Club Chicago has a “freemium” business model, in which most content is free, especially its COVID-19 coverage and public service journalism. Subscribers pay $59 a year or $6 a month to receive full access to content across the site and a hyperlocal newsletter. Nonsubscribers can view five unlocked stories per day.
Prior to Block Club Chicago, Maple was team coordinator for the Journalism and Media program at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Maple holds a bachelor’s in telecommunications from Bowling Green State University, and a master’s in journalism from Full Sail University.
She recently joined the Local Media Foundation board of directors, and shared insights about her work, views on the local media industry, and why she is excited to join LMF:
How has the local media industry transformed since you started working in it?
There are so many more local media outlets and digital startups across the country. Folks are seeing the needs of their communities and they’re launching news outlets and then providing a necessary resource.
There are also a lot of trainings and programs now to help local media outlets, and Local Media Association is an example of that with the programs they offer. And then you have INN, LION, The Texas Tribune — and these organizations are helping news outlets. They’re facilitating conversations, trainings and offering a network of opportunities.
Third, funding for local journalism has also grown. There are more major donors who are understanding the importance and the need for local journalism. Then local community and national foundations are supporting local media outlets, which is huge.
What initiatives or areas of focus do you think will have the most positive impact on your organization’s future — especially those that you’re working on?
The biggest thing is diverse revenue streams. Relying on one source of revenue can be detrimental to any news organization. It’s important to have multiple sources of revenue, and thanks to a recent investment in Block Club, we’re able to generate more revenue on the business side of our newsroom.
The other thing is engaging the community beyond the headlines. We don’t just tell stories, but we’re active in our neighborhood, hosting and moderating conversations. Pre-pandemic, we hosted a free resource fair on the West Side of Chicago. We had 21 organizations come together in one room offering some sort of free resource. Residents could get a free meal, legal help, blood pressure screenings, help finding a job. And during the pandemic, we hosted a virtual back to school event. As students started remote learning, readers could donate supplies or volunteer at South and West Side organizations that serve students.
We hope to do more in-person events in the communities we serve as we come out of the pandemic. Residents and community leaders seeing a newsroom doing more than just reporting can really benefit your newsroom.
What is the biggest challenge facing the local media industry today?
I hope to see more people like me in leadership positions. It’s more than just checking a box and filling a space or a spot. I think those making hiring decisions really need to take the time to understand how a person of color in a leadership role can make a difference in their organization and in understanding the needs of their readers.
In harmony with understanding the needs of your readers, too, it is also important to listen to your readers. Is this something that you want or is this something they want? We’ve learned, time and time again, that if your work resonates with your readers, they’ll support you.
What do you think is the biggest opportunity?
There are so many. We have a network of support and that’s huge. There are so many different business models, all doing amazing work, and where one newsroom may lack, another is strong, and we can learn from each other.
There are times I’ve seen in trainings or in programs, one newsroom can excel in individual donations, and another newsroom doesn’t do well in that area. Or there are newsrooms who do really well with funders, and other newsrooms simply just don’t know how to start; they don’t know the basics.
Through trainings and programs, you make connections and then revisit conversations later. Like, “Hey, I remember you were in my program and you really excelled at this point. Can you help our newsroom?”
Another opportunity is collaboration. This country has a very robust and diverse media landscape. Working together can increase editorial capacity, and it builds bridges with new audiences. We can truly accomplish so much more by working together.
Ninety-nine percent of newsrooms have bandwidth issues — there’s not enough staff or capacity. When you work together with another newsroom, you both get the credit for the story. There may be competition on who tells the story first. But when you’re working on these big or investigative stories, something that’s really going to zap a lot of your energy and take a lot of time, why not work together? Ultimately, at the end of the day, you’re helping your readers.
Why are you excited to join the LMF board?
I’m really excited to learn about the programs. LMA offers so much to the media industry and it’s nice to see many initiatives that benefit different newsrooms. Block Club Chicago benefited from participating in one of LMA’s programs. We were part of the first cohort of the Lab for Journalism Funding. So what better way to dive in and help other media outlets, than by having that first-hand knowledge and experience. I’m looking forward to hitting the ground running and helping the best way I know how.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.