Announcing the Lenfest Constellation News Leadership Initiative

Today, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism is excited to announce the launch of the Lenfest Constellation News Leadership Initiative, a comprehensive management development program designed to provide career coaching and resources to Philadelphia-area media professionals of color pursuing leadership roles in local news media enterprises. 

This seven-month fellowship will support mid-career media makers of color in the Greater Philadelphia area with world-class training from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, mentorship from Executive Advisors who have advanced to positions of leadership in news enterprises, and career coaching from Crawford Leadership Strategies, a Black-owned leadership development firm. The program is open to candidates who work in editorial, product, business, or technology at  media Philadelphia-area news media enterprises. 

We are now accepting applications for both Fellows and the Executive Advisors in the program. The program is free for Fellows and Executive Advisors will be compensated $1,000 for their time. The deadline to apply is July 17 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. For more information, please visit this FAQ. We hosted a webinar on June 30 at 1 p.m. EDT to answer any questions you may have. You can find that recording here. This program was made possible thanks in part to the generous support of the Independence Public Media Foundation as well as by funding and programing services provided by The Lenfest Institute.

While the Constellation Initiative has been in development for months, the program has taken on new urgency in recent weeks as conversations about racism, and specifically anti-Black racism, have risen to the fore in a way we haven’t seen in generations. As an important part of our communities and our democracy, journalists, news organizations, and journalism funders have begun to look in the proverbial mirror at the role we play in perpetuating marginalization of people of color. As protests from media professionals of color in news organizations across the country showed us, the reflection staring back at us does not always stand up to our ideals of fairness and equity for all.

Addressing these issues is critical for both newsrooms and the communities they serve. The U.S. Census projects that by 2045 the United States will be majority people of color. In Philadelphia, that is already the case. We know that to fulfill the Lenfest Institute’s overarching mission of finding sustainable business models for important local journalism, news coverage needs to be reflective, relatable, and relevant to diverse communities. And in order for that to happen, newsrooms need to be more than diverse; they need to be equitable.  

While there is a clear moral imperative for supporting more equitable news coverage, there’s an obvious business case as well: News organizations are increasingly reliant on direct financial support from readers. If questions of diversity are left unaddressed, we are leaving out a core part of the equation of business sustainability for news.

We hope that the Lenfest Constellation News Leadership Initiative can help Philadelphia-area publishers make progress. 

There have been many programs aimed at improving diversity in newsrooms, from career fairs for journalists of color to internships and fellowships for these professionals. Although some of these programs have made in-roads, they have focused mainly on the issue of entry-level pipeline and early-career support for journalists of color. These programs are important, but without a focus on newsroom culture, leadership development of people of color to assume mid-level and senior-level managerial roles, or work to improve equity and inclusion in news, our work falls woefully short.

We are aware that there is no single initiative or fellowship program that will fully address the systemic lack of diversity in news enterprises, specifically at the mid-career and leadership levels. We understand that the core issue that has led to the minimal progress made to diversify newsrooms after nearly 50 years of stated “commitment” from news organizations is structural racism. Even with additional support for media professionals of color, we will fail Philadelphia’s news ecosystem if we don’t address these organizational and systemic needs. In addition to the programming of the Constellation Initiative itself, we will engage leaders of the news organizations with Fellows in the program to work to address these needs. 

In light of recent events, The Lenfest Institute has pledged to work on needed systemic changes. The Constellation Initiative is just one part of this commitment, and we will share more details on our plans in the coming weeks. 

These past few weeks have been a time of reckoning for the news industry, for our city, our nation, and our world regarding racism and inequality. The time for action and change is now. As media professionals, we have the opportunity to change the narrative and show all communities respect and dignity in service of Philadelphia and democracy. We hope that this program is one step in making the Philadelphia media ecosystem more equitable to all communities.

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