Image courtesy of Medevenko via Wikimedia Commons

September 26, 2019; Philadelphia Magazine

The challenges faced by local news entities are well known. The Knight Foundation and the Lenfest Institute’s combined efforts to reignite the industry have been a topic of ongoing interest at NPQ, and last week’s award provides a glimpse of the creativity within the journalism field that could provide a path forward—both in Philadelphia and nationally.

The three grants to Resolve Philadelphia, Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University, and the Philadelphia Inquirer aim to support “new models for local journalism while ensuring that news organizations have the necessary technology and community engagement skills to successfully serve Philadelphia’s diverse communities,” according to the fund’s statement.

As a way to dig in deeper into what these awards mean for the recipients, Philadelphia Magazine talked with Jim Friedlich, CEO of the Lenfest Institute; Aron Pilhofer, chair in Journalism Innovation at Temple; Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, co-executive director of Resolve Philadelphia; and Stan Wischnowski , executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Each provided insights on effective growth strategies for local news entities, which have relevance for nonprofits beyond the news industry.

“We believe we need to do several things right, and aggressively,” Friedlich asserted. He stressed the importance of investments in “high-impact journalism that matters,” and “diverse voices, diverse new audiences, and diversity in the newsroom and in the business itself.” To this list he added “deep collaboration and cooperation across the news ecosystem,” and new technology, “really for the first time, at the local level.” The Inquirer received the largest grant of $3 million.

Pilhofer said that his department plans to use the organization’s $2 million award for engineering product research, but the focus will primarily be on building capacity. Elaborating, he said, “It could be newsletters, it could be a brand extension of some kind. It could be experimenting with different types of story forms. It could be experimenting with different models in geographical places.”

Friedman-Rudovsky at Resolve Philadelphia talked about how her organization will use the $250,000 grant to further collaborative reporting on poverty and incarceration, including Broke In Philly, a collaboration of 25 Philadelphia-area newsrooms and academic partners covering poverty and economic justice. Friedman-Rudovsky, who previously served as Broke In Philly’s editor, explained, “I think one of the reasons for our success in this work is the timing element—the fact that, with the business model sort of falling out from under all of us in this industry, newsroom leaders are way more open to trying new things, or to trying things that were sort of anathema, like editorial collaboration with your ‘competitor.’”

Wischnowski noted that as for-profit workers, he and his colleagues are “aggressively looking to our future and ensuring that we’re staying ahead of the curve.” As NPQ covered this past July, the paper has suffered from continuing challenges. He added, “The technology piece of it really has a chance to get us to a much better place from a digital subscription standpoint, making sure that the experience of users is better than it’s ever been before, ensuring that we’re tapping into this metropolis, these areas of otherwise underserved communities in ways we never have before.”

A year ago, the Lenfest Institute released Being Informed: A Study Of The Information Needs And Habits Of Philadelphia Residents, which highlighted trends in news use by local residents. Mobile phones were the most popular information portal across all age groups, races, and household income levels. The study also revealed that participants often had “too much information and news on their screens and that they had to opt out” and that “trust and mistrust of sources depended on the proximity to responders.”

We will be keeping eyes peeled to see how these issues reflect broader patterns locally and nationally.—Anne Eigeman