How The Lenfest Institute will support Philadelphia’s news and information ecosystem in 2021 and beyond

The Lenfest Institute for Journalism is today announcing new programs and initiatives to support journalists and news organizations striving to build sustainable and equitable models of local news that meet the needs of Philadelphia communities. 

These programs are aimed at developing a new generation of Philadelphia news leaders, better understanding and serving the news and information needs of Philadelphians, and ensuring that our work is responsive to, and reflective of, the community. Together with our partners, over the course of the next year, we plan to launch: 

  • A new learning and grantmaking program to support BIPOC entrepreneurs launching or building news and information businesses serving Philadelphia-area communities. This program is created in partnership with the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund
  • An expansion of the Lenfest Constellation News Leadership Initiative and the Lenfest Next Generation Fund, two successful programs that support professional development and career advancement for journalists and media leaders of color.
  • The BEYOND Learning Community, a new initiative to support those interested in creating community-centered journalism, digital products, and revenue models designed to sustain local news.  
  • Multiple community research efforts to help us continue to learn about the Philadelphia media ecosystem, measure our progress, and provide actionable data and market research to better serve journalists, media funders, and local entrepreneurs.  
  • The Lenfest Visioning Table, a diverse and experienced community advisory group to help shape our strategy.

You can learn more about each of these programs below. 

Our goal is to support sustainable local journalism that can catalyze a more transparent, connected, and equitable Philadelphia by linking residents to their neighbors, to news organizations, and to other information resources that allow them to flourish. 

The new learning communities, support programs, and research initiatives announced today are each steps in reimagining and reinventing the Philadelphia news and information ecosystem in 2021 — and beyond.

We envision a Philadelphia news ecosystem that provides vital news and information to all. We envision a local news community in which there is pay equity and equal access to professional development and other support for members of all communities. We envision investments into organizations led by people from marginalized communities that mirror the investments in organizations that have historically benefited from the unequal distribution of resources. We envision a future where news organizations that prioritize community are financially sustainable.

These and other related initiatives will be the focus of our work in Philadelphia in the coming years. We seek to make meaningful progress by 2026, when the United States commemorates the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We will work with the Lenfest Visioning Table to create milestones and success metrics for this work, which we will share in the coming months.

Our Approach

This collective vision for the future of journalism in our region primarily grew out of BEYOND: Reimagining Philadelphia Journalism, a three-day virtual summit convened in late 2020 to enable frank conversations between more than 200 journalists, community members, and news media executives in the Philadelphia area on issues of equity in local news.

One of the key insights from these discussions was the recognition that no single person, organization, or program alone can meet the information needs of all Philadelphians. We must work together to meet this complex challenge, leveraging the strengths each of us bring to the local news ecosystem.

The initiatives described here are formed by the collective input of the journalism community in Philadelphia, and we trust that this work will evolve and change based upon their continued input. 

In Philadelphia, there are many individuals, programs, and organizations doing meaningful work to fill information gaps. Our goal is to break down silos and help make connections so that we can work together and learn from each other to create large-scale change.

Our Challenge 

Philadelphia journalism should serve and increase the agency of all Philadelphians. However, our newsrooms, businesses, product groups, and leadership teams often fail to reflect all communities. Simply stated, much of our journalism does not serve the full city.

Distrust of media, particularly mainstream outlets, coupled with an historic lack of investment in community journalism, has left many Philadelphians without the news and information they need. This gap is especially stark in communities of color, which make up nearly two-thirds of Philadelphia’s population.

Journalism has a powerful opportunity to serve as a bridge connecting people to the information they need to thrive, to weave facts together in a way that creates meaning and insights, and to more deeply link people to their neighbors and community. But we must create a form of journalism in which all of Philadelphia’s diverse communities truly belong. To do so, we all must increase our listening and relationship-building capacity; reflect the community in our staff, leadership, and coverage; and create local journalism that is accessible and sustainable.

The Lenfest Institute’s Plans for 2021

We are taking a long view of this work, recognizing that it will take time, collective effort, and collaboration to reach our goals for a reimagined Philadelphia news ecosystem. Our 2021 efforts continue past programs that have shown promise and introduce new initiatives that we believe will help move us closer to our goals. 

Several of these programs are generously supported by Independence Public Media Foundation.

Leadership, entrepreneurship, and professional development programs

We will assist people of color with resources and training that support ownership and career advancement in local news media through the following programs:

Entrepreneurial Support Initiative: In collaboration with the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, this new initiative will provide skill-building, financial support, and community resources to news entrepreneurs of color in Philadelphia.  

The initiative’s core focus is on increasing the capacity and agency of entrepreneurs and the communities they serve by not only ensuring that information needs are met, but also through developing transformational relationships and building meaningful professional networks and business alliances.

The program will launch in late 2021 or early 2022, and we will share more details about how to get involved in the coming months. 

The Lenfest Constellation News Leadership Initiative: This program provides career development support and mentorship to mid-career media professionals of color. Applications for the program will open June 1. This work is supported in part by The M&T Charitable Foundation.

The Lenfest Next Generation Fund: NextGen was initially designed to provide awards to Philadelphia-area journalists and students of color to attend a professional development conference of their choice. Due to the pandemic we expanded the use of funds to include compensation for unpaid internships and both in-person and virtual professional development opportunities. The 2021 NextGen class will be announced next week.

Research

We will provide market research and benchmarking to help Philadelphia’s news outlets best serve the community in their staffing, coverage, product development, and business planning with the following efforts:

Philadelphia Media Mapping & Information Needs Assessment: The Center for Media Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin will conduct an information needs analysis to learn what news products and information services are most in demand in Philadelphia across a broad array of communities. The center conducted similar research in Chicago. 

Philadelphia Media Census: An employment and leadership census to understand the demographics of journalists, media professionals, executives, and ownership of Philadelphia-area news organizations. The census is being conducted by the Solutions Journalism Network as part of a larger research effort studying diversity, equity, and inclusion in news media nationally. You can complete the census here.

We will share all findings publicly when they are published.

Convenings and learning communities

We will create space and infrastructure for people and organizations to learn, grow, and coordinate activities in support of local news. In 2021 this work will include:

The Lenfest Visioning Table is a group of journalists, media professionals, and community members that represent different perspectives and experiences within the Philadelphia media ecosystem. This group will meet regularly with the Lenfest Institute team to provide feedback and insight that help to inform our Philadelphia strategy and work. Click here to learn more about the Visioning Table members.

The BEYOND Learning Community focuses on peer-learning and knowledge sharing for Philadelphia-based product thinkers and those interested in learning more about building sustainable news and information businesses. This group will focus on community-centered product design and revenue models. We will share more details about the learning community’s structure and services in the coming months. If you’re a Philadelphia-area media professional, please sign up here to get updates on how to join the community.

A Large-scale Ecosystem Convening that will build upon the work of the 2020 BEYOND conference. We will share, listen, and seek input on what we are working on, what we’ve learned, and what we need to do in the year ahead alongside the community and all of our partners. 

We welcome your thoughts, questions, and feedback. These initiatives are just the start of our plans for the Philadelphia news community. Do you think they meet the challenges facing our industry and our city?

Please feel free to reach out to Lenfest Institute Program Director Shawn Mooring, who will be leading these initiatives, via email or by scheduling a time to meet here.

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