Lenfest Institute supports potential merger between Chicago Public Media and Chicago Sun-Times

The big news in the world of local news last week was the announcement that Chicago Public Media intends to acquire the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper and digital properties, creating a local news powerhouse in America’s third largest city. The move was inspired in part by The Lenfest Institute’s ownership of The Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Institute served as a strategic advisor in the planning process. 

In this issue of the newsletter, we share an update on the latest in Chicago. Plus, we also have an announcement about the first-ever News Philanthropy Summit, a new virtual gathering we’re organizing to support fundraising efforts at news organizations around the country. 

Thanks as always for your support, and please reach out with any questions or feedback. 

Lenfest Institute advises planned Chicago Public Media merger with Chicago Sun-Times 

The Lenfest Institute’s mission is not only to support sustainable solutions for local journalism at home in Philadelphia, but also to share what we learn with news and civic leaders around the country as they look to ensure that their communities are served by meaningful, public-service oriented local news. 

Most recently, we’ve been proud to offer advice and counsel to Chicago Public Media, which announced last week that it is moving forward with its plans to acquire the tabloid newspaper and digital news enterprise Chicago Sun-Times. The deal would create what it described as “one of the largest local nonprofit news organizations in the nation and be a national model for the future of local journalism.” 

The New York Times cited The Lenfest Institute as a model for Chicago: “The Sun-Times’s potential move to local nonprofit ownership would mirror the corporate structure of The Philadelphia Inquirer, which in 2016 was donated by its owner, H.F. Lenfest, a cable magnate, to The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, a nonprofit organization he had established.”

Lenfest Institute Executive Director & CEO Jim Friedlich told The Times that the model enables individuals and foundations to make philanthropic donations that support investigative stories, increased diversity, and enhanced digital products.

“(Chicago’s) news capacity has been ravaged over the years by out-of-town hedge fund owners, the secular decline of print, and a failure to invest in the digital transformation of local news products,” Friedlich told the Times. “Today’s announcement is wonderful news and a model for other public media and local newspapers to emulate.”

The Sun-Times and WBEZ, Chicago Public Media’s flagship radio station, will continue to serve their respective audiences but also expand their reach by sharing coverage across platforms.

Chicago Public Media CEO Matt Moog said the combined local news powerhouse will be supported by donations and major philanthropic organizations, with three major Chicago-based funders already secured. 

“This is an investment and growth opportunity. We are looking to build our staff, we’re looking to build the audience, we’re looking to invest in journalism,” Moog said. “All of that is focused on making sure that we serve an expanded and engaged diverse audience that is representative of the community that we serve.”

We’ll keep you updated as the Chicago merger progresses, and we’ll also continue to share updates about how the Institute is leveraging our insights and knowledge to help grow local news across the country.

News Philanthropy Summit registration now open

Registration is now open for the inaugural Lenfest News Philanthropy Summit, a new conference dedicated solely to fundraising to support journalism. The fully virtual conference will take place from Nov. 3-5, and it’s free and open to all.

The Institute founded the News Philanthropy Network in 2020 to bring together a national community of journalism fundraisers. Through courses on topics such as grant writing and major donor development, hands-on workshops, and networking events, we’ve worked to expand the fundraising field. We hope the Summit will continue to grow interest and awareness of the importance of philanthropy as a revenue stream to support journalism. 

We’re still finalizing the Summit schedule, but some highlights include:

  • Intimate “fireside” conversations with Stewart Bainum Jr., a Maryland businessman supporting local news in Baltimore, and Jim Brady, the Knight Foundation’s newly appointed vice president of journalism, that will offer funders’ perspectives on why they invest in journalism.  
  • A roundtable discussion with New York Times Vice President of Philanthropy Sharon Chan; Fraser Nelson, the co-founder and managing director of the National Trust for Local News;Texas Tribune Chief Development Officer Terry Quinn; and Annie McCain Madonia, The Lenfest Institute’s Chief Advancement Officer. 
  • Mario Lugay, senior innovation director at Justice Funders, a firm focused on reimagining philanthropy, will join writer Micah L. Sifry for a conversation on how development professionals can help drive social change and develop deeper relationships with their communities. 
  • A screening of the new documentary film “Storm Lake,” which depicts how the family-run, independent Storm Lake Times manages to continue its operations despite the ever-changing media landscape. We’ll also include a discussion with the film’s producer Beth Levison, Storm Lake Times editor Art Cullen, and Kyle Munson, president of the Western Iowa Journalism Foundation.  

We’ll share more details about additional sessions and workshops on topics such as human-centered storytelling, national research and trends in fundraising, grant writing best practices, and much more in the coming weeks. 

You can register for the Summit here

News & Notes

  • Journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitri Muratov, who run independent news organizations in the Philippines and Russia, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today. “They are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions,” the Nobel Committee wrote in its announcement. This is a timely reminder of the importance of independent, fact-based journalism that serves our communities. Congratulations to Ressa and Muratov! We’re grateful to them — and journalists everywhere. 
  • This month, PhillyCAM is hosting its 2021 People Power Media Fest to celebrate the future of community media and free speech in Philadelphia through multimedia, virtual, and in-person experiences. This year’s programming will focus on “Community Media as Community Care” and address the impact of media representation, access, and literacy on our lives. The Lenfest Institute is a proud sponsor, and the full schedule of events can be found here: ppmfest.org 
  • The Institute is also proud to partner with the Glen Nelson Center at the American Public Media Group to host the Next Challenge for Media and Journalism, a competition seeking new startups and student-led media ventures that will help transform media over the next decade.

    Of the four award divisions, the Institute is supporting the Student Ventures Division alongside Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication. Up to $10,000 will be awarded to student-led news and information, civic engagement, or distribution channel ventures. Applications are open through November 7 at thenextchallenge.com

This issue of The Lenfest Institute newsletter was written by Hayley Slusser and Joseph Lichterman

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

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