Local newsrooms in Philadelphia and beyond get $2 million in grant funding from Lenfest

The Philadelphia Media Network, which includes The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, has received a grant for $1 million from the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. 

Lenfest also announced an additional $1 million for a variety of local journalism projects, newsrooms and innovators, both in Philadelphia and beyond. (Disclosure: Lenfest helps fund Poynter.)

PMN submitted several projects to Lenfest, which is its nonprofit owner. The grant-winning projects include increasing their investigative team from seven to 11, increasing consumer healthcare coverage, working with the American Society of Newspaper Editors for an in-house leadership program, investing in a new content management system, launching a two-year newsroom fellowship program focused on diversity and mentorship, expanding their opinion section network and launching a project with Hearken for audience engagement.

The projects getting money are all key things the newsroom focused in on as it began its digital transformation earlier this year. 

"This isn’t a project, this is a new way of life," said Stan Wischnowski, PMN's executive editor. 

The second set of grants, for local innovation, go to 12 for-profit and nonprofit newsrooms and five innovators-in-residence. Support for those grants came, in part, from the Knight Foundation. (Disclosure: Knight funds my coverage of local news innovation.)

Together, the $2 million supports innovation in major metros, using Philadelphia as a test lab, and start-ups and innovation in the industry, said Jim Friedlich, executive director of the Lenfest Institute.

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There are three themes among all the projects, he said.

One is monetization. 

Projects that focus on creating new ways to make money from the news include Berkeleyside's direct public offering and membership programs from News Revenue Hub and Technically Media

Another, Friedlich said, is expanding audience and newsroom diversity.

In addition to what PMN has planned, other projects in that category include WHYY's Creating Culturally Competent Newsrooms, which brings together the newsroom and community for cross-training, and WURD's multi-newsroom investigation into violence in the African American community. 

The third theme is news ecosystems.

Projects that enable newsrooms to make better use of technology and collaborate include Facet, an open-source platform, and the Philadelphia Solutions Journalism Project.  

"Something that can’t be understated is the potential for an increased level of collaboration in the ecosystem," Wischnowski said. 

The projects in Philadelphia don't just serve one audience, he said, but many. 

Kim Fox, PMN's managing editor of audience, pitched the Hearken and management training projects. She looked for projects with immediate impact and expects both will show that within one to three months. 

Sucess for PMN, the grantees and the innovators-in-residence depends on how well each achieves its goals and how well the group overall comes together, Friedlich said. 

For a look at the local innovation projects, the innovators-in-residence and what PMN has planned, check out the full press release. The innovators include Steven Waldman, co-founder of Report for America, which was announced this week.

Together, the grants offer a concerted push toward better technology, collaboration, business practices and audience engagement. For PMN, Wischnowski said, it all lines up with where they're trying to go.

Two weeks ago, PMN switched to a metered paywall, a move its been planning for months. Already, he said, new subscribers are exceeding expectations.

"It’s early and we still have a lot of work to do," he said, "but this is a whole new way of life for us."

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