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Philly journalism institute makes $2 million in new grants

The grants include $1 million to Philadelphia Media Network, which runs the Inquirer, Daily News and website.

Jim Friedlich, executive director of the Lenfest Institute, which announced new grants for journalism.
Jim Friedlich, executive director of the Lenfest Institute, which announced new grants for journalism.Read moreCharles Fox

The Lenfest Institute for Journalism is giving $2 million in grants to support experimentation and innovation in journalism, including $1 million to its own property, Philadelphia Media Network, which runs the Inquirer, Daily News, and website.

The grants encourage the digital transformation of traditional news organizations and the entrepreneurial verve of young, inventive companies.

"A unique and noble Philadelphia experiment is underway," said Jim Friedlich, the institute's executive director.

The $1 million for PMN will pay for development of new digital products, enhanced investigative reporting, and greater diversity in the makeup of the newsroom and the reading audience.

The other $1 million goes to a dozen nonprofit and for-profit firms and to five "entrepreneurs in residence," chosen from more than 350 applications from across the country. The institute employed a "venture philanthropy" approach, seeking to encourage hands-on exploration and entrepreneurship.

Among those selected were Backyard Media Co., in Cambridge, Mass., which is exploring how podcasts can improve civic engagement; Engaging News Project, in Austin, Texas, which is digging into engagement on mobile news sites; and News Revenue Hub in San Diego, Calif., which helps news organizations get money through membership programs.

Locally, money also went to the public station WHYY, tech news purveyor Technically Media, WURD radio, Philadelphia Public School Notebook, and the Philadelphia Solutions Journalism Project.

Some grantees are working on business models and technologies that could help news organizations succeed in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

"We are deeply appreciative of these grants," said Stan Wischnowski, PMN's top newsroom executive. "They directly align with our strategy of producing a stronger degree of high-impact journalism with a more responsive, innovative and diversified staff."

Some of the PMN money will go toward:

— Expanding the investigative team and increasing its abilities around data analysis, document access, and computer-assisted reporting.

— Adding new reporting and web capabilities in consumer health-care coverage, specifically in examining costs and quality.

— A technology investment to create a better, more user-friendly experience for readers of the website and mobile products.

— Launching a rolling, two-year fellowship program to help diversify the newsroom and create an online audience that's more representative of the region. The readership of is nearly two-thirds male.

The $1 million in grants to PMN came from targeted donations from members of the company board and from other firms and foundations.

Part of the money came from the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, a firm often covered by the Inquirer and Daily News, and which until recently was PMN's landlord.

Friedlich said the gift sprang from a landlord-tenant discussion. PREIT asked PMN to reduce its space and put up with ongoing construction, and offered $500,000 as a gesture of goodwill. A PREIT spokesperson said the contribution and take-back of space were part of a settlement aimed at avoiding litigation.

The institute said donations supporting PMN came from multiple sources. On Wednesday, after questions from the Inquirer, Friedlich sought permission from the donors to make public the amount of their gifts, though not everyone could be contacted.

Donations came from the Kopelman Foundation, $105,000 (Josh Kopelman is board chairman of Philadelphia Media Network); the Leslie Miller and Richard Worley Foundation, $100,000; Lisa D. Kabnick (a PMN board member) and John H. McFadden, $100,000; the Henry L. Kimelman Family Foundation at the request of former Inquirer journalist Donald Kimelman, $40,000; former Inquirer and Daily News Publisher Brian P. Tierney and Brian Communications; the Graham Company, $40,000 (William Graham is a former owner of the newspapers); Dilworth Paxson LLP, $15,000; PMN publisher Terry Egger and his spouse, Renuka, $10,000; and the Ethelyn Leaphart Foundation of the Philadelphia Foundation, $5,000.

Those donations were matched dollar-for-dollar by H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, the philanthropist and former PMN owner and publisher. He founded the institute in 2016 to sustain local, independent journalism.

In the future, Friedlich said, he intends for the institute to adopt a more rigorous disclosure policy.

The institute makes explicit to donors that their gifts carry no privileges, benefits or advantages, he said.

"They support us because of our independence, not despite it," he said.

ProPublica, the nonprofit, on-line news organization whose work is powered primarily through donations, follows a thorough disclosure policy, according to President Richard Tofel.

On its annual IRS Form 990, a public document, the organization publishes the name and dollar-amount gift of everyone who gives $5,000 or more. That record is posted on the organization website as soon as it's filed with the government.

ProPublica accepts anonymous gifts, some of them large, but that doesn't influence coverage because the news company doesn't know the source of the money, he said.

David Boardman, chair of the Lenfest Institute and dean of the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University, said views of the disclosure of donors and their gifts are evolving.

It's become more common for people who rate news coverage to make gifts to media organizations, he said, noting that the Gates Foundation has given money to the Seattle newspaper, which "made clear to Gates they have no say."

Innovation Grants

Backyard Media Company (Cambridge, MA)


Project lead: Amira Valliani

Backyard Media is building a marketplace for local podcast advertising. By connecting small-scale content creators with sponsors, they will empower content creators with the resources they need to do what they do best. As part of the Lenfest project, Backyard is doing a deep dive into the power of podcasts to improve local civic engagement and to democratize access to media. This fall, they will be creating a podcast-based guide to municipal elections in Cambridge, MA and a mini-series on the future of audio-based news.

Berkeleyside Direct Public Offering (Berkeley, CA)


Project lead: Tracey Taylor

In 2016, Berkeleyside, a local news site, created a direct public offering that allows investors of all sizes to buy shares of the company. This grant will allow Berkeleyside to finish the DPO and build out its membership program. Berkeleyside also plans to create a reader revenue toolkit to share its learnings with others.

Center for Investigative Reporting with WHYY (Emeryville, CA and Philadelphia, PA)


Project lead: Hannah Young

CIR will launch a second round of user testing for its Amplify tool, which allows listeners to engage with an episode via SMS text messaging. This test will be associated with a special fall 2017 episode of CIR's Reveal podcast about immigration that it is co-producing with WHYY. Reveal will work with WHYY to release Amplify to a broadcast audience for the first time, as well as across the national podcast audience. 

Engaging News Project (Austin, TX)


Project lead: Dr. Talia Jomini Stroud

The Engaging News Project, based at the University of Texas at Austin, will undertake research focused on mobile news engagement including identifying best practices for the type, placement, and labeling of links to recommended articles on mobile pages. 

Facet (Mountain View, CA)


Project lead: Heather Bryant

Facet is an open-source platform that helps newsrooms manage editorial collaborations within and between organizations. Facet provides infrastructure to empower newsrooms to manage the logistics of creating, editing and distributing content, managing projects and facilitating collaborative relationships.

News Revenue Hub (San Diego, CA)


Project lead: Mary Walter-Brown

The News Revenue Hub works with news organizations to monetize their audiences through membership programs. The Hub plans to continue to test its centralized services business model and expand its offerings for news organizations. It also will establish a real-time learning laboratory in multiple news organizations in Philadelphia and across the United States to more effectively test different technologies and strategies for converting casual users to paying members or subscribers.

Philadelphia Public School Notebook (Philadelphia, PA)


Project lead: Maria Archangelo

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook covers the city's public schools, and its goal is to improve its engagement with students and parents in the city. The Notebook plans to create a more accessible interactive digital version of its already popular guide to Philadelphia high schools.

Philadelphia Solutions Journalism Project (Philadelphia, PA)


Project lead: Jean Friedman-Rudovsky

This project is a collaboration of Philadelphia's general interest, community and multicultural newsrooms to carry out solutions-oriented reporting and community engagement on critical issues facing the city. The project initially covered prisoner re-entry to society and now plans to expand the topics of its coverage. The grant will assist the news collaborative with its organizational capacity and strategic planning as well as its news coverage. Participating organizations include the Temple University Klein College of Media and Communication, The Philadelphia Citizen, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News,, the Muhlenberg College Department of Media and Communication, Generocity, WHYY, PhillyCAM, The Philadelphia Tribune, El Zol Philly, WURD, El Sol, Billy Penn, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Next City.

Technically Media (Philadelphia, PA)


Project lead: Chris Wink

Technically Media is a Philadelphia-based news and events company that operates in five cities throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. It plans to create a platform for collectively marketing local news memberships and exploring a joint membership offering with an initial collective of Philadelphia-based news outlets.

Vigilant (New York, NY)


Project lead: Mike Phillips

Vigilant is a research and intelligence platform for public records. The company plans to build a local newswire sourced from Philadelphia public records data and then use natural language generation technology to convert the data into narrative news briefs. 

WHYY Creating Culturally Competent Newsrooms (Philadelphia, PA)


Project lead: Sandra Clark

WHYY Creating Culturally Competent Newsrooms will build two-way collaboration whereby WHYY and other Philadelphia-based reporters will train community members in storytelling and community partners will train reporters about their communities. The project will seek active participation from throughout Philadelphia and partnership with a broad-based group of mainstream and multicultural news media.

WURD Radio on Violence (Philadelphia, PA)


Project lead: Sara Lomax-Reese

WURD, Philadelphia's only independently owned and operated African-American talk radio station, will create a multimedia partnership between several media and academic institutions to investigate and report on the violence epidemic in Philadelphia's African-American communities. Initial members of the growing partnership include WURD, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Temple University.

Entrepreneurs in Residence

Sandeep Ayyappan


Sandeep Ayyappan is the CEO and founder of Wiser, a curator of news and information for corporate users. Ayyappan will use his startup background to help local news outlets and Lenfest Innovation grantees develop customer-oriented, data-driven news products and help them to innovate more quickly.

Austin Smith


Austin Smith is CEO of Alley Interactive, a digital agency that provides strategy, research, design, and technology consulting services to news publishers. Smith wants to create a digital-first news platform to help re-invent local news.

Kyree Terrell


Kyree Terrell is the founder and CEO of MyNewPhilly, an outlet that produces video-first content that highlights "the people, places, and projects that make Philadelphia a great place to live, work, and play." Terrell will work with legacy news outlets throughout Philadelphia to help them enhance their social video strategies.

Steven Waldman


Steven Waldman is co-founder of Report For America. Modeled on Teach for America and Venture for America, Report for America is a new philanthropic model intended to strengthen journalism, enrich communities and help restore trust in news media by deploying a new generation of journalists to serve local news organizations. Waldman is also the founder of, CEO of, a correspondent for Newsweek, and author of the FCC's landmark report on local news. He also served as senior advisor to the Corporation for National Service and wrote the definitive book on the creation of AmeriCorps.

David Wertime


David Wertime previously co-founded Tea Leaf Nation, a site that scanned, aggregated, synthesized, and translated Chinese social media chatter for a Western audience. The business was later sold to Graham Holdings Company. At the Institute, Wertime plans to create a university-focused news and discussion platform. Written by students, but for readers nationwide, it will link campus correspondents into an integrated contributor network that breaks down barriers between those being covered and those doing the reporting. Wertime plans to use Philadelphia-based universities as a pilot. He will also work with Philadelphia-based news organizations on their strategies for building contributor networks that include diverse voices from the local community.