Lenfest Institute launches new Lenfest Local Lab for product experiments

PHILADELPHIA, August 23, 2018 — The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, the Philadelphia-based non-profit organization focused solely on sustaining local news organizations across the country, is launching the Lenfest Local Lab, a new initiative to experiment with news and information products.

The lab will be led by Sarah Schmalbach, who previously co-led The Guardian’s Mobile Innovation Lab, which ran nearly two dozen mobile storytelling experiments that reached a half-million readers. The Lenfest Local Lab will be a cross-disciplinary team of developers, designers, analysts and journalists collaborating to prototype new consumer-facing digital local news and information experiences. The lab will focus on products that help citizens learn about and connect with their communities, testing location and interest-based products along with new ways to enable citizens to connect with journalists and with each other.

For example, the team hopes to test the pairing of public information on neighborhood meetings with journalism to provide context for conversation and encourage more informed civic participation. They also plan to test ways to deliver news to residents as they approach a location where news has happened or is going to happen, such as news specific to being inside a sports stadium or when passing by a public space being evaluated for redevelopment. By building more seamless news experiences, the team will explore how valuable these products are for local residents, helping support new business models for local news.

Schmalbach will draw on her experience as a journalist, as well as a former product manager at the Philadelphia Media Network, to collaborate with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and philly.com along with other media and civic organizations in the region. Schmalbach also worked at Gannett in a range of digital and mobile product development innovation roles across USA Today’s portfolio. The Guardian lab’s work on live notifications won the Gannett Foundation award for technical innovation in the service of digital journalism at the 2017 Online News Association conference.

“I am thrilled to be back in my hometown doing this work,” Schmalbach said. “It’s a critical time for newsrooms and publishers to be evolving, innovating and trying new things to reach existing as well as new audiences. Our lab will be a test bed for local news products that empower people and leverage technology and design to more closely and actively build journalism’s value to local communities.”

“We couldn’t have found a more ideal person than Sarah to lead this lab and push the boundaries of local news and information,” said Burt Herman, director of innovation projects for the Lenfest Institute. “The local news industry has struggled to keep up with technology and truly embrace the dynamic and interactive potential of digital media and the Internet. This lab will be a showcase for how local media organizations can be a more integral part of people’s lives.”

“The lab’s experimentation ties in nicely with our efforts to build more meaningful relationships with new and existing audiences,” said Stan Wischnowski, executive editor and senior vice president of the Philadelphia Media Network and The Philadelphia Inquirer. “The lab’s experiments will build on and advance the principles behind our current newsroom innovation work, including the adoption of human-centered design practices and building trust and loyalty with our audiences through engagement initiatives like Curious Philly and event hosting. We’re eager to get started working with the lab.”

For those interested in working in the lab, or collaborating on projects, please contact us at [email protected].


About the Lenfest Institute

The Lenfest Institute for Journalism is a non-profit organization whose sole mission is to develop and support sustainable business models for great local journalism. The Institute was founded in 2016 by cable television entrepreneur H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest. Lenfest gifted to the Institute an initial endowment, which has since been supplemented by other donors, for investment in innovative news initiatives, new technology and new models for sustainable journalism. The Institute’s goal is to help transform the news industry in the digital age to ensure that high-quality local journalism remains a cornerstone of our democracy.


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