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Foundations pledge $20 million for local journalism, $9 million for Philly parks and arts

The Knight Foundation and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism will jointly establish a $20 million fund for the advancement of local journalism in Philadelphia and nationwide, the groups announced Sunday. The Foundation additionally announced $9 million to support community engagement with the city's arts and green spaces, including $5 million to be split between two local art museums.

H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, in 2017.
H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, in 2017.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT

Two foundations will jointly establish a $20 million fund for the advancement of local journalism in Philadelphia and nationwide, the groups announced Sunday.

The Knight Foundation and the Philadelphia-based Lenfest Institute for Journalism contributed equally to the fund, which will support leadership training, new technologies and other efforts to inspire innovation in the digital age at U.S. media outlets.

The Knight Foundation, which is based in Miami, will also give $9 million to support community engagement with Philadelphia's arts and green spaces, including $5 million to be split between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation.

The journalism initiative and the other investments were announced Sunday night at a Knight Foundation Community Dinner at the Art Museum, which coincided with a Knight board of trustees meeting that is held once a year in one of the foundation's resident communities, this year Philadelphia.

The $20 million journalism fund — an investment to be made over five years — will be housed within the Lenfest Institute, which owns Philadelphia Media Network, publisher of the Inquirer, Daily News and

"Local journalism is in crisis — financial crisis and, to some degree, political crisis," said Jim Friedlich, executive director of the Lenfest Institute. "And it's in crisis just when our democracy needs it most. As the crisis has become more acute, the resolve of major funders like Knight and Lenfest has also increased."

The journalism fund will be split between three main initiatives.

About $5 million will support journalism innovation in as many as 30 metro areas. It will go toward intensive training for news leaders looking to meet technology, business and audience needs in the digital age.

The program is meant to expand on the work done under the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, a partnership that has brought resources and training into 12 newsrooms over the last three years. It will also expand on that program by including more multicultural media partners.

Another $5 million will fund a technology resource hub that will act as a central repository for the best ideas on issues such as product development, data journalism, and revenue models. Friedlich said the Lenfest Institute will issue a request for proposals to find one or more partners that can create and house the hub.

The remaining money, about $10 million, will support journalism  at Philadelphia Media Network and at other news organizations throughout the city, including those that serve diverse communities. Friedlich said applications for grants will likely be accepted in the early part of 2019.

He said the hope is to use Philadelphia as a "test kitchen," then share both the successes and failures with other cities.

"The idea is to significantly move the needle in one major market where news organizations are already changing and already working together effectively," he said.

Stan Wischnowski, PMN's executive editor and senior vice president, said in a statement that the fund "puts the Inquirer and the entire local news ecosystem in a much stronger position."

"It will allow us to accelerate the pace of newsroom innovation, experimentation, and civic engagement so urgently needed as we try to build a viable path to preserving high-impact journalism in Philadelphia and beyond," he said.

Alberto Ibargüen, president of the Knight Foundation, said the investments align with the foundation's core value of fostering informed and engaged communities.

He said the fund has been set up so that other individuals, corporations or foundations can contribute. Future partners could be interested in backing local journalism in a specific community and use the fund as a mechanism to do so, he said.

The additional $9 million in funding announced by Knight will be split between three Philadelphia projects.

  1. $4 million to support citizen engagement in the design and use of a public park that will cap a portion of I-95 near Penn's Landing. The park is part of a larger $225 million development initiative along the Delaware River.

  2. $2.5 million for the Barnes Foundation to create a digital engagement center that will aid all of its departments in better interacting with visitors. In an example already underway, the museum has created a GPS-enabled touring tool of its galleries.

  3. $2.5 million for the Philadelphia Museum of Art to enhance how visitors interact with the museum, both in the galleries and online. It will fund the integration of technology into all areas of the museum's operations.

"We are deeply grateful to the Knight Foundation both for its generosity and for its clear recognition of the opportunities that an investment in technology can provide to help institutions like ours develop new tools to engage today's audiences," Timothy Rub, the Art Museum's chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Thom Collins, executive director and president of the Barnes Foundation, expressed similar sentiments.

"Through the ongoing support the Knight Foundation's generous grant will provide, we will be able to expand the ways in which we use technology to connect with visitors onsite, and how we extend beyond our walls to engage directly with Philadelphia's many diverse communities," he said in a statement.

The funding for the Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, jointly, is being provided by the Knight Foundation under a newly established Philadelphia Art and Technology Fund.

The fund for local journalism is among the last initiatives in which H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, for whom the Lenfest Institute is named, had direct involvement before his death last month. Lenfest in 2016 created the nonprofit and gifted the Philadelphia newspapers, which he owned, to it. The nonprofit's endowment now sits at about  $40 million.

Friedlich and Ibargüen said the idea for the new fund was first floated in May, when the two men met with Lenfest at his Rittenhouse Square apartment. While talking about the challenges facing local journalism, Lenfest — spontaneously but seriously, they said — suggested that he would put up $10 million if the Knight Foundation matched it.

Friedlich and Ibargüen left that night with plans to start developing a model for the fund. While progress had been made, that work was accelerated in August.

In an email to Friedlich the day Lenfest died, Ibargüen said the two foundations should "work, in his honor and for the good of informed communities, to make sure we make this happen."

Staff writer Stephanie Farr contributed to this article.