Lenfest Institute Newsletter: Celebrating Black History Month

[This article originally appeared in The Lenfest Institute for Journalism newsletter. You can subscribe here.]

Friends, 

I’m Cheryl, a program manager at The Lenfest Institute. My work focuses on supporting journalism in Philadelphia. It’s a special honor to be able to lead this newsletter during Black History Month. The work of Black Americans have been pivotal to every part of our society, and their work around issues of social justice have led to positive developments for many other marginalized communities throughout our history. The passing of the 15th Amendment, which gave Black men the right to vote, lay the groundwork for the eventual passage of the 19th Amendment, which enfranchised women. We can also hearken to the Civil Rights Movement and how the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provided added protections and benefits to women and provided inspiration and a basis for later movements and legislation related to people with disabilities and the LGBT+ community. 

In Philadelphia, African-American journalists launched the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, the first such organization in America, and this in turn helped lead to the creation of the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalist Association, the Native American Journalist Association, The Association of LGBTQ Journalists, and other organizations that support marginalized communities working in journalism.

This work has never been more timely or more important. Philadelphia is a city that is nearly 45% Black and roughly 66% of its population are people of color, yet these populations are not yet fully represented in many of our newsrooms. There is work to be done. 

Below we’re going to share some of the ways that the Institute and our partners are addressing these challenges, along with what we’re learning by sharing:

Please feel free to reach out with any questions.

– Cheryl Thompson-Morton, Lenfest Institute Program Manager


Eight lessons from BEYOND: Reimagining Philadelphia Journalism 

In November 2020, we hosted BEYOND: Reimagining Philadelphia Journalism, a three-day virtual summit to enable frank conversations between journalists, community members, managers, and news media executives in the Philadelphia area on issues of equity in local news.

Our goal was to begin to build a collective vision of the future of journalism in our region.  More than 200 people attended and shared their thoughts on how we can build a better, more equitable future for Philadelphia journalism.

In this post, I outlined some of the key themes and insights that emerged from our conversation. These insights are not about any individual newsroom but are lessons any organization can learn from.

In the coming weeks, we’ll share how these insights will shape our next steps, new programming, and new collaboration ideas as we seek to achieve our collective goals. 

Here are the eight key takeaways: 

  • Journalism must reflect the community
  • Power in local journalism needs to be reimagined to truly represent Philadelphia
  • We must center and serve communities
  • Journalism’s values must shift if serving the community is our goal
  • Listening — both internally to our colleagues and externally to our community — is vital for advancing equity
  • Our investments have to align with our espoused values
  • We have to move from inclusion to true belonging
  • We need a radical mindset shift

I have many more thoughts on the findings, and you can learn more in this post, which features meaningful quotes from participants and speakers at the summit. 


Understanding representation gaps at The Inquirer

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently published an independent audit of its news coverage. The Lenfest Institute was proud to support this work in partnership with the Independence Public Media Foundation. 

The study, conducted by researchers from Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication, determined that a significant majority of people who appear in The Inquirer as news subjects or sources are white and male. And despite recent progress in the hiring and promotion of journalists of color, nearly three-fourths of The Inquirer’s newsroom is white. 

We know from experience that these processes can lead to change. In 2017, the Institute awarded a grant to WHYY, Philadelphia’s public media outlet, to support its own content audit, cultural competency training for staff, and audio training for journalists and local residents. In the years since WHYY’s initial audit and training, it has launched a number of community-focused projects informed by those findings.

We look forward to continuing to support The Inquirer in this essential work. You can read a summary of the audit here, and you can find the full report here.


Meet Philly’s journalism stars

The Lenfest Constellation News Leadership Initiative is a program designed to provide career development support to mid-career media professionals of color. This seven-month fellowship supports 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 inaugural class of fellows began the program in October and they’ve already done amazing things — and the fellowship isn’t even complete! 

This cohort includes one person who has received three fellowships since starting the program, a person who was promoted while in the program, and others who have launched impressive projects for their news organization that are keeping the community informed and engaged on issues ranging from the 2020 election, COVID-19, education, and everything in between. This group is also ensuring that marginalized communities such as the Black, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish-speaking populations are served.

These folks are the now and the future of Philadelphia journalism. Give them a follow and keep your eyes on them to see what they’re working on next. 


News & Notes: Errin Haines joins Lenfest Institute Board 

• Errin Haines, editor-at-large and co-founder of The 19th*, a nonprofit, digital news site focused on the intersection of women, politics and policy, is joining our Board of Managers

She was elected unanimously by the Board today, and she’s the Board’s third new member in the past year, joining DiverseForce CEO and Founder Sulaiman Rahman and Amanda Bennett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, investigative journalist, and editor. 

“As someone who has benefitted firsthand from the vision and leadership of The Lenfest Institute, I could not be more thrilled to help this organization tell its story and to help further shape the work of creating more equitable newsrooms that more honestly and accurately reflect the communities they cover,” Haines said. “Lenfest’s mission feels more urgent and necessary than ever and I look forward to collaborating to meet the moment our industry and our democracy demand.” 

• The Lenfest Institute is proud to support journalist and filmmaker Sofiya Ballin’s screening of her latest documentary project Black History Untold: Love at the African-American Museum of Philadelphia. The film spotlights a diverse selection of Black couples from Philadelphia, D.C., and New York as they share insights from their personal journey and love story – while highlighting the power of Black love throughout history. You can register for the screening, which will be held Saturday from 5-7pm.

• Today, WHYY announced the launch of the News & Information Community Exchange — a mutual aid, journalism collaborative dedicated to organizing, supporting, & developing grassroots news and information content creators. This project is supported by The Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund. You can learn more about NICE in this Twitter thread.


Thanks again for allowing us in your inboxes to share some insights and updates on our ongoing work at The Lenfest Institute. We’ll be back with another issue next month. In the meantime, please feel free to share this newsletter with your friends or subscribe at lenfestinstitute.org.

Photo of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. by TJ Brown / Shutterstock.com

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