Today, we’re announcing Substack Local, a US$1,000,000 initiative to foster and develop the local news ecosystem by helping independent writers build local news publications based on the subscription model.
A panel of independent judges will work with Substack to select up to 30 local news writers to participate in the program. Substack Local will provide each writer with mentorship from experienced journalists; business support such as subsidized access to health insurance, expert advice, and design services; and a cash advance designed to reduce the financial risk of starting a new business.
We are strong believers in the importance of local news as a bedrock for healthy communities and societies and are deeply concerned by the industry’s ongoing collapse. However, we are optimistic about the potential of the Substack model for local news and have been encouraged by the success of emerging publications like The Mill (Manchester), The Rover (Montreal), The Charlotte Ledger, and City Hall Watcher (Toronto). We’re excited to accelerate this progress by supporting a new era for local news publishing.
Interested writers are invited to apply to Substack Local via this form.
Applications close at 5pm PDT on April 29.
While judges will assess the applicants according to a broad range of criteria and will be open to unconventional choices, ideal applicants will meet the following standards:
They have a strong track record in news reporting
They’re serious about building a full-time, enduring media business supported entirely by subscriptions
They care deeply about their local community
Substack Local, open to applicants from anywhere in the world, is designed to help writers start sustainable local news enterprises. This is not a grants program, nor is it inspired by philanthropic intent. Our goal is to foster an effective business model for independent local news that provides ample room for growth. The Substack platform has proven effective for writers and reporters around the world, with tens of millions of dollars delivered to writers since its inception in 2017. More than half a million people subscribe to publications through Substack.
We will be paying cash advances of up to $100,000 to Substack Local writers. Those advances are designed to support a writer’s work for a year while they are establishing their publication. During that time, writers will also receive 15% of the subscription revenue their publication generates. After one year, the writers will revert to Substack’s standard business terms, retaining 90% of the subscription revenue from then on.
The judges for Substack Local are:
Zeynep Tufekci, publisher of Insight, a sociologist and writer whose work has appeared in the world’s leading publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post. Tufekci is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina and in fall 2021 will be a visiting professor at Columbia University’s Craig Newmark Center for Journalism Ethics and Security.
Anne Helen Petersen, publisher of Culture Study, formerly a senior culture writer at BuzzFeed. Petersen, who is based in Missoula, Montana, holds a PhD in media studies and is the author of several books, including Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation (2020).
Dick Tofel, publisher of Second Rough Draft, and founding general manager and later president of ProPublica. Tofel was formerly an executive at the Wall Street Journal, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the International Freedom Center. He is the author of several books on journalism, including Restless Genius: Barney Kilgore, The Wall Street Journal, and the Invention of Modern Journalism (2009), Why American Newspapers Gave Away the Future (2012), and Not Shutting Up: A Year of Reflections on Journalism (2020).
Rachael Larimore, managing editor at The Dispatch. She served similar roles at The Bulwark and The Weekly Standard. Before that, she worked at Slate for 14 years in various roles, including senior editor.
As part of this local news initiative, we are also partnering with Stuff, a journalist-led media organization in New Zealand, in an attempt to further demonstrate the potential of the model. Stuff will launch two Substack publications dedicated to news coverage in under-served regions in New Zealand. Stuff will participate in and contribute to Substack Local’s mentorship program.
Mentors for Substack Local include Christopher Curtis, publisher of The Rover and formerly of the Montreal Gazette, Abdul Hakim-Shabazz, attorney and publisher of IndyPolitics.org, Lauren Williams, cofounder, CEO, and Editor-in-Chief of Capital B, and Jen Gerson, Canadian journalist and publisher of The Line, among others who will join throughout the course of the program.
We look forward to announcing the successful applicants in May.
Questions that we anticipate will be frequently asked…
What is Substack Local?
Substack Local is a program designed to accelerate the launch and success of independent local news publications. Substack will provide US $1,000,000 total in funding to selected writers who are interested in launching a full-time publication on the platform. We’re accepting applications from all local news writers anywhere in the world.
Apply to Substack Local here.
What do Substack Local writers receive as part of the program?
Each writer will receive an advance of up to US$100,000, which will be paid out over one year, plus 15% of their reader subscription revenue. After the end of that year, once the publication has established reader subscriptions, a mailing list, and has a long-term publishing strategy in place, the publication will switch to getting 90% of the subscription revenue (after fees charged by Stripe, the payments processor). In addition to funding, Substack will facilitate and subsidize services to get the publication off-the-ground, such as:
Connection to a healthcare provider (for US-based writers)
An independent designer of the writer’s choice who will work for the writer
An independent editor of the writer’s choice who will work for the writer
Access to Getty Images
Enrollment in the Substack Defender program (for US-based writers).
Every publication will have a business strategy session with the Substack team and will receive training and advice from selected mentors.
Who will make the selections of the final winners?
An external committee of judges, including Zeynep Tufekci, Anne Helen Petersen, Rachael Larimore, and Dick Tofel, will be working with the Substack team to review all of the applications. The judges will be responsible for selecting the final winners of the program.
What are you looking for in applications?
Applicants should be highly motivated to launch a business supported entirely by subscriptions.
Interested individuals should have a robust business plan that they present with their application.
Applicants should care deeply about their local community and aim to create an enduring publication.
Can anybody apply?
Any individual writer, or small group of writers, can apply.
I already write on Substack, can I apply?
Yes. We encourage existing Substack publishers to apply.
I’m outside of the US, can I apply?
Yes. However, non-US winners do not currently have access to the Substack Defender legal program or the healthcare program.
What is the timeline?
Applications open: Thursday, April 15–Thursday, April 29 at 5pm PDT
Application review period: Friday, April 30–Friday, May 14
Final decisions made by: Tuesday, May 18
Announcement of successful applicants: Thursday, May 20
How will I know if I have been selected?
We will be in touch via email to let you know if you have been selected.
I have a question about applying for this program. How can I get in touch?
We’ve set up an email here: email@example.com. Due to volume, we may not be able to reach out right away, but we’ll try to get to your inquiry as soon as possible. Please only use this email for questions, not to submit your application. Only applications submitted through this form will be reviewed.
Will you do more programs like this in the future?
Yes. We’re always looking for new ways to support writers. You can follow the Substack blog for updates.