Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative
The Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative is a program designed to help major metropolitan news organizations accelerate the transformations of their newsrooms to produce more compelling digital content, engage readers on multiple platforms, build digital revenue streams, and ensure their long-term sustainability.
Started in October 2015 with support from Knight Foundation and Temple University’s School of Media and Communication, the program worked with more than 50 leaders from four leading news organizations —The Dallas Morning News; the Miami Herald; the Minneapolis Star Tribune; and Philadelphia Media Network, which is home to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com — and spent a year focused on creating approaches to advance digital transformation.
Building on strong early results, the initiative was expanded in February 2017, when joined by a new leadership partner, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, based in Philadelphia. Knight Foundation has committed $3.3 million, adding to its $1.3 million in previous support. The Lenfest Institute for Journalism invested $1.5 million.
Under the leadership of project director Douglas K. Smith, the funding helped the partners expand the team-based change-management approach over three years to 12 new major metropolitan newsrooms, and extend the method to other newsrooms of varying size and type. The Lenfest Institute for Journalism’s team of news industry experts provides additional guidance to participants in audience development, technology, product development, digital subscriptions and user experience.
The 2017 cohort of news organizations included diverse representatives from across the country, as well as both independent news organizations and those owned by larger groups: The Seattle Times, Bay Area News Group (Digital First Media), the Houston Chronicle (Hearst), and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Gannett) will join the program for the first time. Philadelphia Media Network (The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com) will continue as a major participant undertaking new newsroom investments and product development under the Knight-Lenfest program.
The Detroit Free Press (Gannett), The Sacramento Bee (McClatchy), The Omaha World-Herald (BH Media Group), and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette participated in 2018.
The major news organizations participating in 2019 are The Los Angeles Times, The Indianapolis Star, The Charlotte Observer, and Newsday.
The 2017 phase of the initiative also included a collaboration with the Center for Innovation & Sustainability in Local Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Media and Journalism, leveraging a $3 million commitment from Knight Foundation and $1 million from the UNC Office of the Provost awarded in 2015. Working with project leadership, the center will help develop an approach to spread lessons from the project to local and regional news organizations. It worked with media organizations throughout North Carolina, including newspapers, radio and television stations, and digital startups, to create a network of sustainable news outlets that can tackle digital-age challenges head-on and address the threat of news deserts.
In addition, The Poynter Institute received funding ($880,000) to guide and coach newsrooms across the country through digital and cultural transformation. The Poynter program, centered on best practices developed during the first year of the initiative, will shape the way media organizations approach and achieve sustainable digital publishing.
Poynter offers intensive teaching and coaching to up to 20 local news organizations of varying sizes, geographies and ownership models over three years. The training for each annual cohort will include in-person conferences, online seminars, and virtual coaching.
To accelerate digital and cultural change, Poynter further provides all media organizations and journalists around the country access to the key takeaways from the project through a series of online courses on its News University e-learning platform (newsu.org) and robust coverage via a new Innovation Channel on poynter.org. The institute will also incorporate lessons from the project into its other programs, including its annual workshop for educators, Teachapalooza, and its leadership seminars.
Also, in 2017, the American Press Institute was an important part of the program, and produced a written and online manual that can be used by news organizations around the country to understand and utilize the learnings that have been developed in this program by the coaches and the participants. The online manual is available at https://betternews.org/ and the printed version, Table Stakes: A manual for Getting in the Game of News, is available at Amazon.com.
The Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative is supported by industry and academic experts, as well as leading researchers in the field. It is led by Douglas K. Smith, a leading organizational change practitioner with wide experience in helping industries adapt to evolving conditions, and Arlene Morgan, assistant dean for external affairs at Temple’s School of Media and Communication; Temple University Professor Aron Pilhofer, and Burt Herman, Ken Herts and Matt Skibinski of The Lenfest Institute. Also involved is Smith’s colleague Quentin Hope and consultant Charles Baum, leading news industry experts; Tom Rosenstiel, executive director, American Press Institute; Jeff Sonderman, deputy director, American Press Institute.
The program will continue to expand as part of the Knight Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund.