A fund set up to support local journalism has awarded grants totaling $5.25 million to three organizations in Philadelphia at a time when newsrooms across the country face financial headwinds.
The fund established by the Knight Foundation and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism has awarded grants to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication, and Resolve Philadelphia. The grants, including $1 million from the Facebook Journalism Project, are meant to help newsrooms use technology to cover their communities, better reach their audiences, and generate revenue.
The investments are the first grants distributed by the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, a $20 million fund created last year with the goal of building a sustainable future for local news. Local news organizations have struggled to adapt to the loss of advertising dollars in recent years as readers increasingly read news online. As many as 1,400 cities and towns across the U.S. have lost a newspaper over the last 15 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University of North Carolina.
The $5.25 million collection of grants, announced Thursday, is believed to be the largest of its kind for local news in a single city, Jim Friedlich, executive director and CEO of the Philadelphia-based Lenfest Institute, wrote in an email.
Among regional newspapers in the country, The Inquirer has a unique ownership structure. It is owned by the Lenfest Institute, a first-of-its-kind nonprofit group aimed at developing and supporting sustainable business models for local journalism. The institute has previously funded investigative journalism and diversity in The Inquirer newsroom.
“This new grant program will help provide a key missing link in local news — the technology and product development resources needed to deliver important journalism in the digital age to the diverse communities of our region wherever they consume news,” Friedlich said. "These kinds of investments have been fundamental to the success of sustainable digital transformations at the Washington Post and the New York Times, but have never been applied at scale at the local news level.”
The Inquirer will receive a two-year, $3 million grant to expand its technology and product development teams. The grant is intended to help make The Inquirer’s digital platforms easier to use for readers and subscribers. Newsroom-based engineers and product managers will work closely with reporters and editors, the fund said. The Inquirer will share updates on its successes and challenges for other news organizations to learn from.
“As we strive to be more responsive to the digital news consumption habits of our audiences, integrating our tech and product teams into our newsroom will accelerate our ability to meet those demands in a profound way,” said Stan Wischnowski, The Inquirer’s executive editor and senior vice president.
The fund will award $2 million for Klein College’s News Catalyst, a product development resource hub for news groups nationwide. News Catalyst will provide tools, technology, and expertise to news organizations, and occasionally partner with outlets on projects, said Temple’s Aron Pilhofer, who oversees the group. News Catalyst will also create “PressPass,” a sort-of app store for local news tools.
“In the broadest way possible, it will be a clearing house for tools and best practices,” Pilhofer said of News Catalyst.
In addition, the fund will award $250,000 to Resolve Philadelphia, a nonprofit news group that organized a collaborative reporting project on poverty called Broke in Philly, which included reporting from more than 20 newsrooms. The grant will help Resolve add staff and build capacity in data journalism.