How The Lenfest Institute is measuring impact in the Philadelphia Media Ecosystem

The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and our partners in the Philadelphia news ecosystem share a common goal — a diverse, thriving news media marketplace. Over the past year, we’ve developed a series of metrics we’re measuring to track success, hold ourselves accountable, and share what we’re learning with our partners and the broader community. 

Through direct investment and programming, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism supports the evolution of a sustainable local news and information ecosystem for a more transparent, connected, and equitable Philadelphia. The aim is to link residents to their neighbors, to news organizations, and to other information resources that allow them to flourish.

The Institute is taking a long view of this work, recognizing that it will take time, collective effort, and collaboration to reach our goals. Representation and inclusion are critical components of positive business outcomes for publishers, which is why the Institute is working to define different pathways to sustainability while also ensuring a broad diversity of voices in leadership at media organizations that reflect the communities they’re serving. 

The Institute’s work supporting an interconnected ecosystem of Philadelphia’s news and information providers serves as a catalyst for achieving these goals and drives our three-tiered investment approach, which focuses on: 

  • Individuals, with an emphasis on journalists, entrepreneurs, and media makers of color
  • Organizations, including legacy, community-based, and startup publishers 
  • Ecosystem projects and resources that serve the news ecosystem as a whole

As we steward these investments, we’re monitoring our progress to better understand their efficacy and to share what we learn. The Institute engaged Jessica Clark, founder & executive director of Dot Connector Studio, to engage in an exploratory process, which included a review of previous efforts to measure and track news ecosystems, in order to understand best practices and determine the best set of metrics to measure our progress. 

We also conducted an extensive literature review and interviewed more than 20 media funders, practitioners, and researchers from organizations including: the Independence Public Media Foundation, Democracy Fund, Outlier Media, the Local Media Association, Tiny News Collective, LION Publishers, Borealis Racial Equity in Journalism Fund, Listening Post Collective, and many others.

The following metrics are being collected and monitored through grant and program applications, grantee reports, and opportunities for peer learning. The data collected will continue to inform the implementation of the Institute’s programming and our understanding of its effectiveness for the news ecosystem more broadly. If you want to dig deeper into the metrics and how we’re tracking them, please check out this spreadsheet, which includes the specific metrics, how we’re collecting them, potential challenges, and more. You will see that in some sections the metrics overlap as each of the categories are interconnected. 

Reach out if you’d like us to walk you through the metrics, and if you’re a funder supporting ecosystem work, please feel free to make a copy and adapt for your own use. 

Here are the key metrics and activities across the three tiers: 

Individuals

The Lenfest Institute invests in individuals at every stage of their careers: from journalism students just starting out to mid-career professionals looking to move into executive roles. The Institute runs programs and awards grants that provide direct investment in professional development and career advancement as critical contributors to the future of local journalism in the Philadelphia-area.

For our investments in individuals, we are tracking the following metrics: 

  • Knowledge/skills gained (skill enhancement)
    • Collected through:
      • Grant applications and reports
      • Post-program surveys 
  • Upward mobility (career advancement)
    • Collected through:
      • Grant applications and reports
      • Post-program surveys 
  • Professional network expansion 
    • Collected through: 
      • Post-program surveys 
      • Focus groups and other qualitative research
  • Diversity impact (leadership)
    • Collected through:
      • Pre and Post-program surveys
      • Focus groups and other qualitative research

A 2021 Impact Architects study called Philadelphia a “news jungle” because in some cases it is “an environment in which consumers have too much information and do not know where to turn under the deluge.” However, it is an inequitable jungle with African American and other communities of color left feeling underrepresented in coverage and that their own news and information needs are not being met. The Institute believes that through consistent investment in journalists of color to both enter the field of journalism and advance in their careers, these professionals will positively impact the news & information needs discrepancy that has persisted in our media ecosystem. 

Surveys and reports from the three previous cohorts of the Lenfest Next Generation Fund , which provides funding to support professional development opportunities for journalists and students of color, found that journalism students noted the exposure they received through the professional development support allowed them to make connections that would bolster their emerging journalism careers. 

Among the first class of the Lenfest Constellation News Leadership Initiative , a leadership development program for mid-career media professionals founded in 2020, 40% reported a job promotion during the program and 90% reported an expansion of job responsibilities. Every fellow said the fellowship increased their confidence at work. And 70% of the fellows said the program helped raise their profile in the industry, while 90% said they made new connections with fellow journalists and media professionals. 

Organizations

The Institute recognizes that no one single organization can meet all of a community’s news and information needs. This is why in addition to supporting high-impact journalism, diversity initiatives, and product innovation at The Philadelphia Inquirer, we also support a number of different local organizations through programs such as the Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange. Together with our funding partners, we also offer direct grant support to organizations such as WHYY, WURD Radio, Resolve Philly, the Al Día Foundation, Technical.ly, and more. The Institute supports these organizations by defining and investing in multiple pathways to sustainability for all publishers and ensuring a diversity of representative voices and leadership that is reflective of the communities they serve. 

Across these organizations, we are tracking the following metrics:

  • Organizational capacity (staffing, technology, etc.) 
    • Collected through:
      • Organizational capacity assessments
      • Grant applications and reports
      • Post-program surveys 
  • Growth and profitability (sustainable revenue models, etc.)
    • Collected through:
      • Organizational capacity assessments
      • Grant applications and reports
      • Post-program surveys 
  • BIPOC leadership/ownership
    • Collected through:
      • Grant applications & reports
      • Post-program surveys 
      • Focus groups and other qualitative research
  • Mutually beneficial and meaningful collaboration with other media organizations in the community
    • Collected through:
      • Grant applications and reports
      • Post-program surveys

These programs and grants provide direct investment to build organizational capacity for legacy, community-based, and independent organizations in the Philadelphia area. Through these efforts, the Institute also places a deliberate emphasis on addressing the documented inequities of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, & People of Color) leadership and ownership of outlets along with representation in sourcing, coverage, and voice. These metrics will allow both the Institute and our partners to track and measure their organizational capacity, growth, and profitability on an ongoing basis and allow for peer and industry learning in real time. 

The Institute is collecting data on these metrics across multiple grants and programs — including some that are scheduled to launch in the coming year. These data will inform the implementation of programming as well as help us to ascertain its efficacy for the organizations and the media ecosystem as a whole.

Ecosystem

The Institute recognizes that while collaboration can be challenging, it is necessary to collectively move towards our goal of a more transparent, connected, and equitable Philadelphia. As noted in the Organization section above, no one media organization can or should seek to meet the news and information needs of the richly diverse Philadelphia metropolitan area. To that end, news and information providers in Philadelphia must come together to serve the community as a whole, and the Institute is investing in research and infrastructure that will build trust between organizations and make it easier for them to work together. 

We will continue to support such work as the BEYOND: Reimagining Journalism Convening, the Lenfest Visioning Table, and Resolve Philly, in an effort to create collaborative opportunities for Philadelphia’s media leaders to share ideas, explore innovation, and promote avenues toward long-term sustainability. 

In order to effectively serve the media ecosystem we need to understand its needs, which is why we invest in ongoing research efforts. The Center for Media Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin is conducting an information needs analysis to learn what news products and information services are most in-demand in Philadelphia across a broad array of communities. In July 2020, the center conducted similar research in Chicago. Meanwhile, Code Black Media is conducting an employment and leadership census to understand the demographics of the Philadelphia news community. 

For these broader efforts we are tracking metrics such as:

  • Mutually beneficial and meaningful collaborations among media organizations in the ecosystem 
    • Collected through:
      • Grant applications and reports
      • Focus groups and other qualitative research
      • Surveys 
  • Increased coverage and representation of BIPOC communities that ensures their news and information needs are met
    • Collected through:
      • Research reports
      • Focus groups
      • Surveys
  • BIPOC leadership/ownership
    • Collected through:
      • Research reports
      • Focus groups 
      • Surveys
  • Increase in the sustainability of organizations meeting the news and information needs of the Philadelphia news and information ecosystem
    • Collected through:
      • Research reports
      • Focus groups 
      • Surveys

In 2022, our focus is collecting baseline data through ongoing research, with smaller studies and biannual check-ins to follow. The data will help us understand the health of Philadelphia’s news ecosystem. It will inform the implementation of the programming and also help us ascertain whether we’re meeting our goals to support the broader Philadelphia news ecosystem. 

The Lenfest Institute’s efforts to evaluate, monitor, and report on the progress of the grants, research, and partnerships that we invest in as a funder are not intended to be extractive or burdensome to the communities that we support. 

As we share our progress, challenges, and triumphs by hosting convenings, facilitating learning communities, and publishing research findings, we hope to contribute to an ongoing dialogue with those working to build sustainable models for local journalism here in Philadelphia and beyond.

We look forward to engaging with you in this conversation about how to sustain local news and information ecosystems around the country. 

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