LMA Family and Independent Media Sustainability Lab

Local Media Association launched a new lab program in April 2023 aimed at finding paths to sustainability for family-owned and independent local media organizations, thanks to funding from Google News Initiative.

Directors of the LMA Family and Independent Media Sustainability Lab — FIMS Lab for short — will work for one year with key leaders of 12 family-owned and independent local media companies, immersing in strategic business transformation work intended to advance them toward long-term sustainability and financial independence.

Lab leaders will develop specific curriculum based in part on needs identified in the participating media companies. Focus areas will include:

  • General strategic planning and business transformation.
  • Building sustainable advertising, branded content and marketing services portfolios, especially focused on digital.
  • Consumer (reader) revenue and first-party data strategies.
  • Rethinking local media as both product and service.
  • Making the most of journalism funded by philanthropy.
  • Optimizing technology application to strengthen revenue opportunities, make processes more efficient and better control expenses.
  • Developing opportunities for participants to collaborate on topic-focused journalism projects with philanthropic funding.

Lab participants will benefit from general strategic planning and consulting services, including on-site visits by subject-matter experts with agendas tailored to each participating organization’s needs. And the Lab will cover costs for each participating company to send two main stakeholders to an in-person, full-cohort meeting in Chicago coinciding with LMA Fest, the week of July 31.

Have a question about the FIMS Lab? Check our Frequently Asked Questions below.

Lab directors and subject-matter experts

The FIMS Lab experts

Dorrine Mendoza, formerly news partnerships and strategic program development at Meta and Facebook, is the lead program director. Jay Small, LMA chief operating officer, and Julia Campbell, LMA chief business transformation officer, serve as co-leads with Mendoza. 

The three program directors consult with Lab participants on product, process, operations, technology, revenue opportunities and general strategy. Industry-leading subject-matter experts also serve as Lab coaches and consultants, including:

  • Jason Jedlinski, veteran digital media executive with leadership experience at The Hill, The Wall Street Journal and Gannett. He covers audience, content and product development strategies.
  • Peter Lamb, owner of Lamb Consulting and sales development expert. He covers sales/revenue and marketing strategies.
  • LMA team members Nancy Lane, CEO, Frank Mungeam, chief innovation officer, and Penny Riordan, director of business strategy and partnerships, also advise on strategy, journalism funded by philanthropy and reader revenue, respectively.

Frequently asked questions

How big a commitment is it to be in the Lab?

We don’t want to scare anyone off, but this is a bigger commitment than just a webinar series or a bunch of downloadable research reports.

In the application form, we ask for a letter from your company’s owner or CEO expressing a commitment to participate in the Lab. It is essential for senior-level leadership — people empowered to make major strategic decisions on behalf of the company — to be involved in the virtual meetings, available when the Lab team is in your location, and in attendance at the in-person convening in August. Meaningful business transformation begins at the top. Without that commitment from the C-level, the Lab will not lead to positive outcomes for your company.

If your company is selected, you will participate in surveys and assessments to understand your business characteristics, general financial profile, similarities and differences with others in the cohort. We will have virtual (Zoom) group meetings roughly twice a month and virtual meetings with just your company team roughly once a month. We will schedule at least one in-person consulting visit to your company location, with an agenda tailored to your specific needs, at the convenience of your leadership team. We need you present and engaged for all these conversations, virtual or in-person.

If selected, your company will need to execute a participant agreement that details these obligations before joining the lab.

Our company would benefit from some of the topics of the Lab more than others. Can we pick and choose?

Yes, to an extent. We recognize that some companies might be more interested in B2B/sales transformation, and others might be more interested in, for example, learning about journalism funded by philanthropy. That’s why we will begin our work with the 12 companies by surveying and assessing their needs and characteristics. Much of the training will be available across the board and will be worth your attention even if a topic is not a focus area for your company. But we can also customize our direct consulting to meet your needs.

Is my company too small/too big for the Lab?

We don’t want to be too restrictive, but we do require that your company have at least $1 million (U.S.) total annual revenue to apply.

Do nonprofits qualify?

By definition, nonprofit associations, trusts, foundations etc., do not have “owners” per se. The Lab is intended to help family-owned and independently-owned local news media companies. Nonprofits can have ownership stakes in for-profit entities, however, and that would not disqualify the for-profit from applying.

Do Canadian companies qualify?

O Canada! Yes.

Will this cost us anything to participate?

Generally, no, but you may choose to invest to get more out of your company’s Lab participation. Example: The Lab will cover the cost for two people to attend the in-person cohort meeting adjacent to LMA Fest in August. If you want to bring additional people — both for the Lab meeting and the conference that follows — that would be at your company’s expense. But it would also be a great way to get more people involved in the Lab and cost-effectively avail yourselves of all the LMA Fest conference programming.

What kinds of company information will we have to provide?

As part of initial surveys and assessments, we’ll ask each participating company to provide organizational and financial overviews, missions, strategic goals and current KPIs. Many companies will consider this information proprietary; however, the participant agreement includes confidentiality provisions similar to what management consultants typically provide. We need financial and strategic data at the outset for benchmarking, and again at the end of the Lab year, so we will know if the work makes a difference.

As the Lab progresses, we may ask each company to lead a “share-out” or two to the full cohort — typically a case study or success story. When we present metrics on Lab progress to the industry, we will do so only in aggregate, anonymized to protect anything you consider proprietary.

Will our company receive any grant or stipend funding?

The FIMS Lab does not include direct stipends at this point. It is more focused on consulting and collaboration to find paths to long-term sustainability.

Will there be a FIMS Lab community where we can seek advice and help from our fellow participants and the Lab team?

Yes! We will establish group email lists and Slack workspaces for the participating companies as conversational communities and resource archives.