LkldNow: Where We Are, Where We’re Going

Nearly 70 people attended a reception LkldNow held Friday evening at ART/ifact to recognize its financial supporters and volunteers. The event served as a formal kickoff for NewsMatch, a national call-to-action to support nonprofit journalism that LkldNow was selected for this year. Here is a slightly edited version of the talk LkldNow founder Barry Friedman gave at Friday’s event:

Thank you so much for coming. Some of you were with us three years ago when we had a launch party at Catapult. Three years! Can you believe it?

We’ve been through a lot since then, but our mission has remained the same: to connect the people of Lakeland to their community through authoritatively reported and curated news and information.

Reception at ART/ifact Studios and Gallery Amy Dobson

Tonight’s a night to thank the many people who have helped us get where we are and to let you know where we are and where we’re going.

I’m happy to report that our website traffic has taken off in the last three months. We got a lot of praise for our Voter Guide, and that was the source of a lot of the new traffic.

We just passed 6,000 Facebook fans. And a few weeks ago we had our first Instagram photo that got more than 300 likes. And then we had another the next week.

Nonprofit and board

People often ask why we organized as a nonprofit.

I’ve given several reasons, some serious and some facetious. The main facetious reason is that nobody expects to get rich doing what we’re doing.

But the real reason we organized is a non-profit is because LkldNow was started as a community-spirited project. I think it shows in the way we cover the news, the way we focus on efforts to make Lakeland more livable.

By organizing as a nonprofit we demonstrate that our readers are central to our mission. It helps us focus on informing readers rather than catering to advertisers or using clickbait to juice up the page views.

As a non-profit organization, we have a board of directors. And I am blessed with an amazing group of people I get to work with on our board.

Barry Friedman speaks, backed by five board members Amy Dobson

Let me introduce them, and I’m going to save our outgoing chair and our incoming chair for last.

John Fitzwater: John used to be my boss. When he joined The Ledger as publisher in 2000, I had already started theledger.com and had been running it for a couple of years. John became known at The Ledger as gregarious and decisive; he took the one-minute manager concept and got it down to about 15 seconds. That decisiveness has been valuable on our board.

Chris McArthur is one of the younger members of our board but he’s proven himself to possess a lot of wisdom. When I was about to rush into a hasty decision earlier this year, Chris was the one who reminded me to focus on what LkldNow offers that nobody else can. Not only did it prevent a bad decision, but it helped us clarify our defining characteristics and led to a new description for what we do: independent, community-driven news.

Doris Moore-Bailey is somebody I met when I first came to Lakeland in 1982 as city editor of The Ledger. She was working in the newsroom, too, and has since expanded into  broadcasting. Her weekly radio program Sundays at 5 on WLKF focuses on community issues, and Doris has helped fill me in on her perspectives on community events.

Mike Trice and I just missed each other at Florida Southern College. I taught an online journalism course in 2007 and served as faculty advisor to the student newspaper for the first half of 2008. Mike arrived as a journalism professor later in 2008 and took over the student newspaper duties. He has served the LkldNow board as secretary from the beginning and is continuing in that role. And he has set us up with several student interns.

Chuck Welch founded a predecessor to LkldNow. His website was called LakelandLocal and it introduced Lakeland to the concept of hyper-local online news. Until recently Chuck lived in Wisconsin, so he’d join our meetings via Skype. He’s had a significant behind-the-scenes role at LkldNow. On the technical side, he has helped with WordPress programming and has gotten me out of some WordPress jams. And he’s graciously curated Lakeland news for me when I’ve traveled to places where I’ve had little or no Internet connectivity.

I met Amy Wiggins soon after I left The Ledger in 2014. She was president of the local chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association and I went to a few of their meetings mostly for networking but also because they have interesting speakers. I was impressed with Amy’s firm but friendly leadership style; it’s a style that has worked well for her in her current position as executive director of the Imperial Symphony Orchestra. And a style that I’m  sure will benefit LkldNow since Amy has just been elected our new chair. So, Amy, with the power invested in me (pause) by me, I install you as the new board chair for Linking Community Now Inc., our parent organization.

And finally, Sandy Sheets. Sandy was our founding chair. She probably didn’t realize when she took the position that she’d serve for three terms. I’m deeply grateful. It turns out that it’s good having somebody with a keen legal mind as a founding chair. Sandy has that rare ability to get the heart of an issue very quickly and then devise a solution that she makes sound simple even though it’s quite complex. She’s been decisive and resolute when it mattered. I’m very glad she’s remaining on the board beyond her chairmanship. Sandy, we have a special gift as a token of our appreciation for your service.

And I want to recognize one more keen legal mind. Kemp Brinson has been our board attorney from the beginning. He has given freely of his time to draw up our founding documents, field legal questions and write a very effective friendly but firm letter on our behalf when it really mattered. And while Kemp isn’t a journalist, he has practiced random acts of journalism with a couple of Polk-related blogs. And I need to come clean and admit that our very popular Voters Guide this year was modeled on a guide that Kemp created for local elections a couple of years ago.

Volunteers

Beyond our board, there are so many people who have contributed to LkldNow’s success over the last three years. I’m not even going to try to name them all because I’m sure I’ll leave some of them out. But I want to name a few.

The first is my wife, Sharon Hodges, who is probably the only person in the room who really knows how many hours I put into this mad passion of mine. But even then she probably doesn’t know all of it because she is often asleep when I finally come to bed. Sharon has inspired me when I had doubts. She has been my loudest cheerleader and strongest advocate. She’s helped me keep organized when I’ve let her, and she has taken my grant proposals that sounded like they were written by a modest journalist and added the detail and confidence that we hope funders will find persuasive. And for those who don’t know it, Sharon is finally retiring from the University of South Florida in about a month. A lot of her time is already committed, but I’m secretly hoping that she will devote a little corner of her time to bringing a little more organization to this endeavor. And one more thing: This event tonight wouldn’t have been possible without her hours of planning, organizing and culinary creativity. Please join me in thanking her.

Also, Rebecca Fortier has been invaluable in helping me and Sharon set this event up. I’d like to thank Heather Epps for her hours helping me focus on the non-journalism parts of this job; Irma Cole for setting up speaking engagements; Adam Welchel for QuickBooks help, and David Dickey and Yasira Adams for wonderful photography. Also, Fred Koehler for devising an impactful candidate questionnaire and chart last year.

And I’d like to give a special thanks to the many of you who have either tipped me off to stories around town or just helped me understand the community better by sharing your perspectives in personal conversations and online.

Amy Dobson

Supporters

I want to acknowledge the co-sponsors of tonight’s event. They include Haus 820, ART/ifact Studios and Publix Super Market Charities.

And finally, I want to thank our financial supporters. These are both our corporate sponsors and the many of you who have made personal donations.

Among the organizations that have supported us, three stand out for their months-long commitment. They include Lakeland Electric, Black & Brew, and The CityZenShip blog.

And a thank to those of you who have dug into your pockets to help out. I know some of you have dug deep to help, and I really appreciate it.

I want to single out one donor because his generous donation is shining a beacon that is illuminating a path forward for us.

That donor is Michael Maguire. His gift has enabled us to start hiring experienced journalists to add depth and breadth to our coverage.

So far there are two, but others will follow. One is Cary McMullen, who I helped hire at The Ledger about 20 years ago. As he did there, he is specializing in cultural arts and religion for LkldNow.

Our other new reporter is Marilyn Meyer, who recently retired from The Ledger, where she was an assistant city editor and then a health reporter. Her coverage for LkldNow has focused on City Hall.

And other experienced journalists will be coming on board.

Expansion

So in a sense Mike’s donation became seed money to grow LkldNow from my passion project into a news organization that can continue to serve Lakeland by providing community journalism and keeping a watchful eye on City Hall.

The donations we’ll be getting will help us continue to expand our coverage and better serve the community.

And we’re doing a few other things to try to expand our coverage. LkldNow has applied for two different grants for a project we hope to kick off next year called Solutions Journalism Polk. Solutions journalism is focused around not only describing a community problem but examining solutions that work elsewhere and see if they might work in our community. There’s an organization called Solutions Journalism Network that provides training in that method.

If these grants come through, we’ll hire a reporter to spend a year doing a deep dive into three vital and interconnected issues: homelessness, affordable housing and food insecurity. So please keep your fingers crossed.

And here’s where I tell you about NewsMatch.

As I announced a couple of months ago, LkldNow is one of 155 nonprofit news organizations selected to participate in NewsMatch this year.

NewsMatch allows us to double the donations we receive from individuals in November and December this year. Your donations are matched 100 percent by a coalition of foundations who believe nonprofit journalism builds stronger communities.

They’ll match donations of up to $1,000 per person. And they’ll match up to $25,000 in total donations to LkldNow.

Chris McArthur’s message

And now I’d like to ask Chris McArthur to say a few words about why LkldNow is important to him.

Chris needs no introduction, but I’ll hit some highlights anyway. He grew up in Lakeland and is a former Marine who opened Black & Brew when he was in his early 20s. Since then he’s become a multiple entrepreneur. He grew Patriot Coffee from a backyard roasting project to a company that sells its products in several hundred Publix stores. And he just opened a second Black & Brew at the public library. When I remarked to a manager that Chris was working in the back both times I went to the new location, she said, admiringly, he’s the hardest-working man she knows. Chris…

Chris’s talk:

As I was standing in a dumpster this morning digging through trash bags to find the brand new toner cartridge one of my baristas had accidentally discarded – I began to imagine what life would have been like if I had pursued that career in journalism I had once considered in college. And as I took in a deep breath and soaked in my present reality …. I thought, nope, this is still better than being a journalist today!

I know most of us are familiar with the unique challenges that local media organizations are facing both here in Lakeland and across the country, and the ways in which our freedom of the press has come under fire in recent years. Now more than ever, trustworthy, quality news is at a premium, especially at the local level.

I’m not positive, but I think Barry thought that maybe he was going to retire and have this hobby nonprofit to keep him busy. I would venture to say that Barry is probably a lot busier that he ever dreamed he would be. The problem is that when your value system compels you to do everything you do with excellence, (as Barry does) those projects tend to grow and grow – both in scope and value. The result is that Barry has built an organization of incredible value, at an incredibly important time, which meets a very real and pressing need.

Now I know you’re all here because you agree with me – you’ve supported LkldNow in one way or another. Your support to this point it so valued. But this group here has an opportunity to set LkldNow on a new trajectory.

For the month of Nov / Dec all donations made to LkldNow will be matched by NewsMatch, up to $1,000 per donation, and up to $25,000. That means LkldNow has an opportunity to raise $50K over the next two month. That is an incredible opportunity!

By playing a part in helping lkldnow reach this goal you would:

  • Enable LkldNow to expand their reporting power and to pay more experienced free lancers
  • It will allow LkldNow to hire a development director to apply for grants and secure partnerships, with the ultimate aim being to hire full time-paid reporters

All of this, of course, is an investment in the long-term sustainability of LkldNow.

So tonight I’m asking you to join me in supporting Barry, and LkldNow, and help pull real news, and quality local reporting out of the dumpster. Thank you.

Donations

So there are several ways you can give tonight. We have a table set up in the corner where Amelia Hart and Rich Epps are helping. They can take credit card payments using card readers graciously leant to us by Qgiv.

In addition, we have set up Text to Give. Just text the word LkldNow to 50155. That’s LKLDNOW. Or you can also used LKLD. Once you do, you’ll get a reply asking for the amount. And then you complete the process by filling out a form on your phone.

Amelia and Rich can also accept checks.

Lily Garay

And I want to point out that we have new LkldNow T-shirts available tonight. You can get one if you sign up for a recurring donation of at least $6 a month or a one-time donation of $75. (If you donate online, send me an email — barry at lkldnow dot com — with your size and I’ll get the shirt to you.)

By the way, if you give a monthly donation, NewsMatch will credit us with a full year’s donation when they give out matching funds. So if you sign up for $10 a month, we get a $120 match.

Once again, thank you all for coming and putting up with my long-windedness. Please enjoy some refreshments, some drinks and each other’s company.

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