An update on The Lenfest Institute’s commitment to racial equity in local journalism

American journalism is reckoning with longstanding systemic racism in both its newsrooms and its news coverage. Philadelphia is no exception.

Early this summer, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism published a commitment to anti-racist action and a statement of our support for journalists of color who are demanding change, accountability and action. We stand in solidarity with all those committed to forcefully addressing and eliminating systemic racism in our city’s media. The Lenfest Institute will periodically share updates on our efforts, our progress and the critical work that remains.

Since our founding in 2016, The Lenfest Institute’s core purpose has been to help create a viable future for public-service, community-focused journalism in the Philadelphia region and beyond. We recognize that an essential element of that mission is to dismantle inequities that have long existed in the news media. As  the nonprofit, noncontrolling shareholder of The Philadelphia Inquirer, we promote systemic change at The Inquirer and in the broader journalism community through philanthropy tied to meaningful and measurable goals for equity and sustainability. Though we have long valued diversity, the past few months have reinforced our commitment to ensuring that local news organizations are equitable and representative. 

In the past few months, the Institute has increased its focus and funding support on equity, including proactive change at The Inquirer. We have increased our financial and programming support for collaborative journalism and community news, especially media owned or operated by people of color. And we are investing more heavily in management development for diverse leadership of Philadelphia-area news media.

The Lenfest Institute is committed to holding ourselves and our grantee partners, including The Inquirer, accountable for the change we all seek. Although The Lenfest Institute owns The Inquirer, its leadership, newsroom and operations function separately from the Institute under the structure created by Gerry Lenfest. The Institute supports The Inquirer through targeted grants for equity, diversity and inclusion imperatives; to accelerate digital transformation; and to enable high-impact, public-service journalism that changes lives for the better.

These efforts have in common both a deep desire for impact and a need for transparency and accountability. In this spirit, here are some of the initiatives and strategies for change that we are supporting at organizations throughout the Philadelphia region:

A Community Approach to Equity: As a Philadelphia-based nonprofit, Lenfest is committed to a community-wide approach to equity in our region’s news media. Together with the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund and our other funding partners, we have provided growing financial support to organizations led or owned by people of color, such as WURD Radio, The Philadelphia Tribune, Impacto, New Mainstream Press, and others. We recently increased our funding to media-makers of color because we believe audiences should be served by media for and by their own communities. Lenfest, Knight Foundation, the Knight-Lenfest Fund, and Independence Public Media Foundation announced early this summer grant support for 16 local news and community organizations serving diverse communities with critical information on COVID-19.

We also encourage key players in the Philadelphia news ecosystem to work together productively, and we place a premium on collaboration and partnership. For this reason, we are helping fund Resolve Philly and its “Broke in Philly” project, a partnership of more than 20 area newsrooms focused on poverty and economic justice.

Management Development for News Executives of Color: Three years ago, Lenfest launched The Lenfest Fellows program, an early-career fellowship for journalists of color that has brought over a dozen new hires to The Inquirer. While we are pleased by the results of this work, we also recognize its meaningful limitations. A new program called the Lenfest Constellation News Leadership Initiative is focused on mid-career development for news leaders in the region. We recently announced the first participants in this program for Philadelphia-area media professionals of color. Each leader will be paired with a coach and an Executive Advisor. While the inaugural class of 10 Fellows includes several Inquirer managers of color, we are joined by Fellows and Executive Advisors from NBC10, Fox29, The Philadelphia Tribune, WURD Radio, WHYY, New Mainstream Press, and Chalkbeat Philadelphia. Our goal is to support the work of news leaders of color to ensure the news executives of the city are representative of a city as diverse as Philadelphia.

We believe it is of vital importance to have more people of color in senior management positions, at The Inquirer and throughout news media companies elsewhere in the region. We are committed to using our resources and influence to help make that happen.

• News Content Audit: We are funding a news content audit at The Inquirer led by a team from the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University. This work is designed to help determine areas of past bias and future improvement. We funded similar work at WHYY. This deep assessment of Inquirer content will be repeated in six months. The Lenfest Local Lab, the Institute’s product and user experience team, is also working with The Inquirer and Temple to build digital tools to support ongoing content auditing and accountability. Their first tool assesses geographic equity and representation in news stories by automatically mapping the locations mentioned.

• Cultural Competency Training: The Institute and our partners at the Independence Public Media Foundation are funding cultural-sensitivity training at The Inquirer with the Maynard Institute, a BIPOC-led national organization dedicated to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in journalism. These efforts have been expanded sharply in the past few months to include not only all levels of The Inquirer newsroom but each major department of the company.

Supporting Journalists of Color: We are proud to support the operations and expansion of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the local chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association. In the past this work has ranged from providing general operating support to all three groups to use as they see fit, to a two-year commitment to provide office and convening space for the PABJ, to the funding of the Lenfest Next-Gen Program, which has underwritten travel and attendance for 50 journalists to join the leading national gatherings of each parent association. These associations provide an essential platform for support, advocacy, and collective action.

Our approach to equity is holistic and long-term because we believe that systemic challenges require long-term, systemic solutions. That said, we are both conscious of and humbled by the fact that we can and should do more. While many of our existing programs are targeted at the advancement of individuals, we believe we need to do more at the organizational level, using our funding to help drive meaningful institutional change where needed most.

The Lenfest Institute also believes that equity begins at home. We have engaged Frontline Solutions, a Black-owned firm that works with nonprofit organizations across the country on diversity, equity and inclusion issues. We will be utilizing Frontline Solutions’ Equity Footprint, a framework developed to assess how philanthropic entities can best engage with their communities. We will focus on every aspect of our organization’s work, including grantmaking, impact measurement, leadership, board governance, and organizational culture.

Our goal is not to contemplate but to act. Our engagement with Frontline Solutions, which began formally last month, is part of a deep, action-oriented examination of our funding priorities, how we collaborate with The Inquirer and other organizations, what we fund or do not, and how we engage with our community here in Philadelphia and across the broader local news industry. We will report again soon on our progress.

As always, we welcome productive ideas, constructive criticism, proposed initiatives, and collaboration with other like-minded partners throughout the region.

Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

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