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Credit: Image by kennymatic on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Later this week a new educational group dedicated to the support of local news site publishers and editors will be officially launched at the BlockByBlock community news conference in Chicago.

The LION Publishers Association - which stands for Local Independent Online News - is a "bootstrap effort" by local online news outlets across the US to "support each other, to share knowledge and best practices, chairman of the Association board Dylan Smith - who is also editor and publisher of TucsonSentinel.com - told Journalism.co.uk.

The main driving force behind its establishment is a belief that "what we're doing is the future of journalism", Smith told Journalism.co.uk.

The model of journalism is "changing and it's focusing back to the local level like it was a few decades ago", he added.

As publishers and editors we really think what we're doing is the future of journalism and that's why we're working so hard to make this succeedDylan Smith, chairman of board, LION
"As publishers and editors we really think what we're doing is the future of journalism and that's why we're working so hard to make this succeed on our own sites, certainly, but also working together to make sure that across the country we have informed communities."

The sort of support the non-profit will offer to members - who are the publishers and editors of local news sites, and not the organisations themselves - ranges from collaboration on editorial which perhaps expands further than the site's local patch, or sharing knowledge on how to deal with technical issues, for example.

"Mainly it's about publishers and editors helping their colleagues," Dylan said, adding that it sees itself "as a network".

"We have people with some amazing expertise in certain areas and we want to be able to have a better way for people who might need some help on something to reach out whether it's on a technical issue or a business issue".

This might be focused issues such as questions on improving advertising offerings, attracting funding or understanding site coding, or "more generalised issues about reporting and editing".

Members will also be local publishers and editors, who work for organisations both for profit and non-profit, and may range from "what most people would think of as a hyperlocal site" to sites "that cover not just a major metro but really a whole region".

The organisation is being officially launched this week at the BlockByBlock community news conference in Chicago, around a year after the idea first emerged during discussions at the same event.

We really needed to pursue some sort of more formal mechanism whereby we can all communicate and reach out to people who were just starting up news sitesDylan Smith, chairman of board, LION
"Around 20 or so of us publishers got together in a room there and just agreed that we really needed to pursue some sort of more formal mechanism whereby we can all communicate and reach out to people who were just starting up news sites," Smith explained.

"So we've spent the past year dotting the i's and crossing the t's on getting the organisation going and there's another BlockByBlock coming up ... in Chicago where we're going to more formally kick things off."

Getting the Association off the ground has also been helped by the support of The Patterson Foundation, which offered some financial support to cover some "incorporation costs and things like that", Smith said. The Foundation has also "generously offered" to cover up to half of initial members' dues who sign up for more than a year in the coming few months.

"So really what they're trying to do is support us growing as an organisation and doing some of that boots on the ground work."

The members' dues paid to LION will be go towards offerings such as expert webinars and conference calls, as well as the collection of "better information about what our whole segment of the industry is doing".

And while the Association is targeting the US market at the moment, Smith said interest has been shown from further afield already.

"We've had a number of inquiries from people in Canada and some in the UK, and from around the world people who are interested in what we're doing.

"We're still sort of up in the air as to whether we should accept members from overseas. Much of specifically what we're doing won't have much bearing on them but there certainly might be some information that could be valuable to helping them out as well."

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