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Public radio’s WHYY buys Billy Penn news site

WHYY said the Philadelphia-based local news site will maintain its brand and staff.

The William Penn statue atop City Hall.
The William Penn statue atop City Hall.Read moreFile Photograph

Billy Penn lives on.

WHYY, Philadelphia’s public radio and television outlet, acquired the local news site and will maintain its brand and staff, WHYY said Monday.

Billy Penn’s owners put it up for sale last month after failing to raise more money from investors. Advertising and membership dues are the primary sources of revenues for Billy Penn, which was launched in 2014.

“Future revenue considerations” are part of the deal so that some ad revenue generated in the future would be funneled back to Billy Penn’s former owner, Spirited Media. WHYY is mostly financed through memberships and charitable donations but can earn revenue through advertising.

WHYY, which did not disclose the news site’s revenues, said it would retain Billy Penn editor Danya Henninger. Billy Penn’s offices near around City Hall are expected to be relocated to WHYY, near the National Constitution Center.

Sandra Clark, a former managing editor at The Inquirer who is now vice president for news and civic dialogue at WHYY, will oversee Billy Penn’s editorial direction. Kyra McGrath, WHYY’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, will lead management oversight of the new property.

“With the addition of Billy Penn, we’ve taken another step to grow our next generation of public media consumers,” WHYY president and chief executive William Marrazzo said in an internal email to employees. He added that “WHYY has consistently grown its journalism capacity to fortify the local news ecosystem."

WHYY spokesman Art Ellis said that readers will be able to access the Billy Penn website as they do now. In March 2015, WHYY acquired the PlanPhilly website that covers urban issues, zoning and development.

The fate of Billy Penn had been uncertain after Spirited Media disclosed earlier this year that it would divest its online news sites in Denver, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Its announced sale was part of a broader consolidation and continued hard times in the local news business in the Philadelphia region.

The free tabloid Metro cut its general news reporters in Philadelphia this year and the Reading Eagle filed for bankruptcy protection in February. The Reading newspaper will be auctioned through the bankruptcy court in May.

Jim Brady, chief executive at Spirited Media, said in a statement on Monday that “I’m thrilled to have found such a perfect home for Billy Penn at WHYY, and I’m excited for what that combination will bring to Philly journalism."

Spirited Media has reorganized its business around consulting for digital operations for television and radio stations, a company official said earlier.

In similar deals, the New York public radio station WNYC acquired the Gothamist, including its archives, domain name and social media assets in February 2018. While the Gothamist will become a part of New York Public Radio, its voice won’t change, according to published reports. Co-founder Jen Chung said at the time that the revived Gothamist site will still have the irreverent voice that made it popular with its readers.

And last month, New York PBS station WNET acquired online public policy newsroom NJ Spotlight. Reporters for NJ Spotlight and NJTV, the public TV network operated by WNET in the state, will collaborate on broadcast and online content as part of the deal.