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Sept. 21, 2017, 7 a.m.
Reporting & Production

To Philly and beyond: The Lenfest Institute announces $2 million in funding for local news projects

The Philadelphia Media Network is getting $1 million. Twelve organizations and five entrepreneurs-in-residence will be getting another for projects ranging from local news membership models to experiments in audience engagement.

Philadelphia’s journalism ecosystem is getting a big infusion of support. The Lenfest Institute announced the winners of its local news innovation grants and its first cohort of entrepreneurs-in-residence Thursday morning.

A total of $1 million is going to 12 different projects and to five individuals working on local-news focused projects. (This support in part comes from the Knight Foundation. Disclosure: the Knight Foundation is also a supporter of Nieman Lab.) Several grantees, such as WHYY and WURD radio stations and Technically Media, are Philadelphia-based. Other grantees, such as California Bay Area’s local news site Berkeleyside (which is getting a boost to complete its direct public offering initiative), might serve as good case studies for other local news markets looking to test out new ideas on either the business or editorial front. And others, like the News Revenue Hub, which helps smaller news outlets across the U.S. develop sustainable membership programs, will orient some of their efforts toward helping Philadelphia-based organizations, including Billy Penn.

Among the entrepreneurs-in-residence selected are Steven Waldman, cofounder of the nationwide Report for America project, and the Philadelphia-based MyNewPhilly.com founder Kyree Terrell.

All of the funding goes to efforts that are “laser-focused on local news and sustaining great local journalism,” Jim Friedlich, the institute’s executive director, told me. (Friedlich recently hired away Nieman Lab’s own Joseph Lichterman.)

“We gave a great deal of thought to the diversity of projects and skillsets,” he said. “You have, for example, a collaborative, ecosystem-level effort in Philadelphia called the Philadelphia Solutions Journalism project, and then on the other hand a Silicon Valley-based tech platform called Facet, which is intended to help exactly that kind of ecosystem-wide effort. On the one hand, a use case; on the other, a new technology.”

The Lenfest-owned Philadelphia Media Network — which consists of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com — will also be getting $1 million to bulk up its reporting resources, expanding its investigative team and consumer healthcare coverage. The funding will also support a new-and-improved CMS for PMN, digital training from the American Society of News Editors that will include non-PMN newsrooms in Philly, a new Opinion Section Contributors Network to source voices from more diverse communities, and a Hearken-powered “Curious Philly” project to report on issues raised by local readers. PMN is also launching a fellowship program to support “emerging journalists from diverse backgrounds,” who will be based in the newsroom and get access to mentorship.

Innovation grantees have access to workspace alongside the Inquirer (and Daily News and Philly.com) staff but are not required to work out of Philadelphia. This first cohort will gather next month at Lenfest Institute to present projects and brainstorm together. Innovation projects director Burt Herman, who will be leading the day-to-day efforts, will also help the cohort stay in touch and foster connections.

“They grantees are required to, but are also excited about, publishing their results and lessons learned,” Friedlich said. “It’s my hope that we’ll be able to be self-critical and report challenges and failures as well as opportunities and triumphs. We do the world more good if we can be objective about this.”

Below is a list of innovation grantees; more on the innovation grantees’ and entrepreneurs-in-residence’s projects at the Lenfest Institute site.

Innovation Grants

Backyard Media Company (Cambridge, MA) / Project lead: Amira Valliani

Berkeleyside Direct Public Offering (Berkeley, CA) / Project lead: Tracey Taylor

Center for Investigative Reporting with WHYY (Emeryville, CA and Philadelphia, PA) / Project lead: Hannah Young

Engaging News Project (Austin, TX) / Project lead: Dr. Talia Jomini Stroud

Facet (Mountain View, CA) / Project lead: Heather Bryant

News Revenue Hub (San Diego, CA) / Project lead: Mary Walter-Brown

Philadelphia Public School Notebook (Philadelphia, PA) / Project lead: Maria Archangelo

Philadelphia Solutions Journalism Project (Philadelphia, PA) / Project lead: Jean Friedman-Rudovsky

Technically Media (Philadelphia, PA) / Project lead: Chris Wink

Vigilant (New York, NY) / Project lead: Mike Phillips

WHYY Creating Culturally Competent Newsrooms (Philadelphia, PA) / Project lead: Sandra Clark

WURD Radio on Violence (Philadelphia, PA) / Project lead: Sara Lomax-Reese

Entrepreneurs in Residence

Sandeep Ayyappan

Austin Smith

Kyree Terrell

Steven Waldman

David Wertime

POSTED     Sept. 21, 2017, 7 a.m.
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