Local journalism building ‘A More Perfect Union’


This article originally appeared in The Lenfest Institute Newsletter. Subscribe here.

Local news organizations can only succeed when their editorial mission and business models align to best serve their communities. In this latest issue of The Lenfest Institute’s newsletter, we’ll highlight some of our partners who are addressing these challenges in different ways. 

If you keep scrolling, you’ll find an introduction to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s “A More Perfect Union” project and updates on how The Lenfest Institute is supporting national programs like the Local Media Association’s Lab for Journalism Funding and NewsGuard’s California News Integrity Report. We’re also sharing news and updates from our partners, including the first cohort of Tiny News Collective news entrepreneurs, and a New York Times column on how the National Trust for Local News is using a “good-kind” of leveraged buy-out to finance the purchase of local newspapers. 

We’re grateful for your support and partnership. Please feel free to reach out to me directly with any questions or thoughts. 


A More Perfect Union explores the birthplace of freedom — and inequity

On July 4, The Philadelphia Inquirer launched A More Perfect Union, a yearlong reporting project examining how institutions founded in Philadelphia have contributed to systemic racism and prospective solutions ahead. 

A More Perfect Union is led by Inquirer contributing editor Errin Haines, who is also editor-at-large of The 19th and a member of The Lenfest Institute’s Board of Managers. Haines will be joined by journalists from both inside and outside The Inquirer newsroom, who are committed to a clear-eyed look at Philadelphia, its institutions, and the impact they have on our communities and the nation. The Lenfest Institute is supporting the project through a grant to The Inquirer. 

In her introductory essay, Haines explained the thinking behind the project: 

Philadelphia is a city of American Firsts: the first library, the first stock exchange and the U.S. Mint, the first hospital, the first art museum, the first university, the first penitentiary and the African Methodist Episcopal Church are among the institutions that were born here — alongside America itself.

But if our city has pioneered democracy, we must also acknowledge that it has also pioneered inequality.

And as a proud American on the 245th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, I am faced with the reality that the founding document establishing our government and young country intentionally excluded women, enslaved Black people and indigenous people — all of whom were present at the time of the American Revolution and played a crucial role in the creation of a democracy in which they have never been fully allowed to participate.

This is not the part of our history that we celebrate on the Fourth of July, but it is history we should acknowledge. To not do so risks repeating the mistakes of the past and not fully embracing our founding ideals.

The declaration is a living document, and we should understand the ideals it contains not as fixed in history, but as building blocks for a new way forward. We the people must be the pioneers of this generation, as the course of human events now calls us to be. We must reconcile the inequity of our origins as inconsistent with who we say we are and want to be.

This is the quest for our More Perfect Union.

You can read Haines’ full essay at Inquirer.com, and we’ll share updates on A More Perfect Union in the coming months as the project gets underway. 


Philadelphia: News Workshop to the World

One of The Lenfest Institute’s core goals is to share what we’re learning at home in Philadelphia with the broader journalism community around the country. That’s why we’re supporting two new national projects that are based on experiments launched in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, which we hope will benefit others: 

• The Institute is proud to support The Local Media Associations’ Lab for Journalism Funding. Philanthropy is an increasingly important revenue stream for publishers, and the Institute will provide financial support for each participating news organization to conduct comprehensive listening tours and research as they determine how best to serve their community’s needs. Lab participants will also receive support from The Lenfest News Philanthropy Network, a community of practice to support fundraising in news. 

Through our work with The Inquirer and Spotlight PA, we’ve seen how important fundraising is to support essential public-service journalism, and we’re excited to be able to share what we’ve learned with other newsrooms undertaking similar journeys. 

You can learn more and apply to join the Lab here. 

• Our friends at NewsGuard are also out with a new study that shows nearly 40% of California news sites studied by the nonpartisan research firm were partisan operations with undisclosed, politically motivated funding sources, serious conflicts of interest, and highly slanted coverage. The report was supported by The Lenfest Institute and The Ward Creek Foundation. 

The report follows the publication of the Pennsylvania Media Trust Report, which found that 30% of the most popular news websites in Pennsylvania are untrustworthy, including local versions of national networks funded by far right-wing and far left-wing groups masquerading as typical local news sites.

You can read both The California News Integrity Report and Pennsylvania Media Trust Report here


News about Local News: The latest on local journalism

Here are some updates from our partners and other articles we’re reading about the latest in the world of local journalism:

  • The Local Journalism Sustainability Act was introduced yesterday in the United States Senate. The bill would provide a pathway to financial viability for local news organizations through a series of tax credits. The Lenfest Institute is a member of the Rebuild Local News Coalition, which advocates for policy solutions to support local journalism. “Local journalism is a bedrock of our democracy and in urgent need of support,” said Lenfest Institute CEO and Executive Director Jim Friedlich. “This bipartisan legislation provides vital economic assistance to local news organizations without threatening their independence.” Learn more about the legislation and the coalition here
  • Tiny News Collective announced its first cohort of founders who are building local news enterprises to serve their communities. Tiny News Collaborative is a project of News Catalyst and LION that provides training, technology, community, and capital to founders. Learn more about the program and meet the first six founders here. (The Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund supports News Catalyst.) 
  • Independence Public Media Foundation published a new report recently about the challenges and opportunities facing community media organizations in the Greater Philadelphia area. “The community media leaders we surveyed and interviewed described their organizations’ top priority as empowering marginalized communities through media literacy, access, and representation,” the report’s author, Dr. Rosemary Clark-Parsons, wrote. You can read the full report here
  • In a recent New York Times article, media columnist Ben Smith highlighted some of the most innovative and thoughtful local news startups working across the country, including Outlier Media, The City, The Oaklandside, and more. The column also highlighted The National Trust for Local News, which “used a leveraged buyout — ‘the good kind, backed by foundations,’ [CEO Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro] said — to purchase a chain of local newspapers whose owner had put it up for sale.” The Lenfest Institute is proud to support the National Trust for Local News as a fiscal sponsor and advisor. 

Follow us on Instagram 

On Instagram, we recently shared an excerpt from a Philadelphia Inquirer opinion article about the need for a “deep reckoning of our existing media system and the role it often plays in reflecting classist and racist interests that threaten safety for all.” Read the full piece, by Malav Kanuga, and follow us on Instagram for more.  


Thanks for your support of The Lenfest Institute. You can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram for more. 

Please do not hesitate to reply to this email or reach out to [email protected] with any questions or feedback. 

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