The Knight x LMA BloomLab team conducted a successful launch meeting Nov. 2-3 for the eight new publishers selected as participants in Cohort 2. The BloomLab team, along with publishers and other representatives from each publication, met in Atlanta to become acquainted, share logistical information, and review overall lab goals and deliverables.

Kinsey Wilson, founder and head of Newspack at Automattic; Daniel Williams, co-founder and CEO of BlueLena; and Kim Wilson, president and founder of Social News Desk, all attended the launch meeting and delivered valuable information about their technology platforms and how each could help in the publishers’ digital transformation journeys.

Jim Brady, vice president of journalism at the Knight Foundation, was also in attendance and expressed his enthusiasm about the initiative. “It was wonderful to get to meet the second cohort of publishers at the Knight x LMA Bloom Lab event in Atlanta,” said Brady. “I’ve been excited about this project from the moment I first heard about it, and meeting those participating in this cohort only reaffirmed why Knight is so proud to have funded the project. You could feel the engagement and enthusiasm in the room.”

Digital-first world-class journalism approach 

BloomLab’s Digital Revenue Director, Robert Walker-Smith, touched on approaches to digital-first, world-class journalism, explaining what digital transformation means, discussing where both digital and print newspaper ad revenue are projected to be by 2026, and helping publishers think about the solutions they offer to help their businesses grow.

“Our time in Atlanta reinforced my view that these publishers have a deep history with brand value in local Black communities, and relevant storytelling from an African American perspective,” said Walker-Smith. “Black-owned newspapers are well positioned to capture advertising revenue through digital transformation.”

The session ended with publishers engaging in discussion around what a digital-first world-class journalism approach meant to their companies.

Technology and digital transformation

Over the two-day launch event, BloomLab’s Technology Director, Apryl Pilolli, touched on the significance of each publisher’s technology stack and why it is specifically important to find technology partners, not just vendors. Pilolli explained, “We look for partners that understand our local publisher’s needs and offer outstanding customer service. That is why we work with partners like NewsPack, Social News Desk, BlueLena and CitySpark.”

She added, “However, before we license any tools, we do a full audit with each of the publishers to understand their pain points, process gaps, and business needs. We want to ensure that the funds go to tech that will drive the biggest [return on investment] for each of the publications, and that it helps to drive revenue in one of four categories — digital ads, branded content, reader revenue, and philanthropy.”

Framing the landscape

On the second day of the launch meeting, publishers shared reflections and learnings from the previous day, while John Celestand, program director of the BloomLab, went over communication flow, program expectations and deliverables. The two-day launch ended with a “walking brainstorming” session in which publishers reflected on their organizations’ greatest strengths and challenges, in addition to what they hope to accomplish by the end of the lab in December 2024.

The BloomLab team will use the collected information to guide twice-a-month webinars, spark conversations in one-on-one meetings and provide a framework for both technology and digital revenue training.

“After two-plus years of COVID restrictions, it felt great to meet in person with the BloomLab coaches and leaders,” said Glenn Burkins, editor and publisher of QCity Metro. “I left Atlanta feeling inspired about all the possibilities for 2023. I believe the BloomLab program can be transformational for our news organization.”