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Lenfest Institute for Journalism announces $2 million in grants to support local innovation

Notebook receives $50,000 toward mobile-friendly, interactive high school guide
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The Lenfest Institute for Journalism announced $2 million in grants to support innovation in local journalism today, both in its home city of Philadelphia and elsewhere in the country.

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook received $50,000 toward a project to make its popular fall guide to high schools mobile-friendly and interactive and to better serve students and families in the city.

Created in 2016 by philanthropist Gerry Lenfest, the Lenfest Institute’s sole mission is to build sustainable business models for local journalism. The Institute supports both the digital transformation of important heritage news organizations and the entrepreneurial efforts of young, innovative companies.

The Institute is a nonprofit organization that owns the Philadelphia Media Network, which includes The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and This relationship provides an extraordinary opportunity for experimentation and innovation within an established news organization, and half of today’s grant dollars will go to PMN projects.

The other half will go to enterprises and entrepreneurs experimenting with new business models and new software technologies to help local news succeed in Philadelphia and across the nation.

Notebook Publisher and Executive Director Maria Archangelo said the organization is grateful not only for the financial support from the Lenfest Institute, but also for the chance to learn from the innovative journalists and entrepreneurs who make up the first class of grantees.

“There are so many interesting ideas being pursued by the grantees that can help build sustainability for journalism,” Archangelo said. “I hope we can share valuable information about connecting with parents and students that will be useful across the country.”

Archangelo said the high school guide project comes at an opportune time for the city. 

Last week,  Pew Charitable Trusts' Philadelphia Research Initiative released a study that showed that students who are white, Asian, female, and not from low-income families are more likely to be admitted and attend the city's most selective high schools than students who are black, Latino, male and poor.

"We are hoping that our digital guide can be a useful tool to help make high school information more accessible to underserved families in the city and improve application and admittance rates," Archangelo said.

The $1 million in grants to Philadelphia Media Network (PMN) in this round will fund new digital product development, enhanced investigative and public-service journalism, and greater newsroom and audience diversity. The other $1 million will go to 12 nonprofit and for-profit companies and five “entrepreneurs in residence” from across the United States, chosen from more than 350 applications. They represent a range of goals, from creating new revenue for news, to building scalable, consumer-centered products enabling high-impact digital journalism, to reaching diverse, growing audiences. These grants have been awarded to applicants based in New York; the San Francisco Bay Area; San Diego; Austin; Cambridge, Mass., and Philadelphia.

The Institute is taking a “venture philanthropy” approach with its innovation program, designed to be hands-on and to support experimentation and entrepreneurship. The grantees will work as a cohort, sharing findings with each other and the public.

The grants to PMN were supported by targeted donations from members of PMN’s board of directors and others. The other grants, designated as Local News Innovation Grants, were supported in part by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

This was the first open call for grants from the Institute, and the quantity and quality of the applications were impressive.

“We were delighted by the response to our open call for innovative ideas to help advance the business of local journalism,” said Jim Friedlich, executive director of the Institute. “Our only regret is that we were not able to support more of the exciting ideas that were proposed.”

“Building a strong future for local journalism is essential to creating more informed and engaged communities. These ideas capture the kind of innovation and experimentation that are required to keep pace with new information needs in Philadelphia and across the country,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism.

Even the grants to PMN were chosen by the Institute's board of managers and its staff from an array of ideas that came from PMN executives and journalists. Those chosen are intended to help ensure that important public-service journalism remains a vibrant part of life in Philadelphia and other metropolitan regions around the country. The learning and results from these projects will be shared with news organizations around the United States.

“The Institute was founded with the belief that local journalism depends for its success on investment in high-impact news content, best-of-breed digital product development, and the cultivation of a new, diverse and growing audience of readers,” Friedlich said. “These grants address all of these major priorities. We are deeply grateful to each of our donors, and we thank them for their commitment to great, local journalism.”

Donations that supported the PMN grants came from the Leslie Miller and Richard Worley Foundation, the Graham Company, the Kopelman Foundation, Lisa D. Kabnick and John H. McFadden, the Henry L Kimelman Family Foundation at the request of Donald Kimelman,  Brian P. Tierney and Brian Communications, Dilworth Paxson LLP, Renuka and Terry Egger, the Ethelyn Leaphart Foundation of the Philadelphia Foundation, and Fashion District Philadelphia. These donations were matched dollar-for-dollar by a gift from Gerry Lenfest.

“My fellow donors and I are delighted to support the Lenfest Institute,” said Josh Kopelman, chairman of the board of PMN and partner of First Round Capital, a leading venture capital firm. “The Institute’s investments in news technology, data journalism, and audience growth and diversity will meaningfully assist in our digital transformation. It is especially pleasing to see Philadelphia emerge as a test laboratory for innovation in journalism, just as it has in so many other industries.”

Here is the full list of grants awarded to the Philadelphia Media Network:

Public Service and Investigative Journalism

Investigative Journalism: PMN will expand its award-winning investigative team and will increase capabilities in data analysis, document access, computer-assisted reporting, and rapid-response investigations.

Consumer Healthcare Coverage: PMN will add both reporting and web-development capabilities to examine local healthcare data and issues related to health costs and quality to help consumers make more-informed decisions.

News Technology and Digital Product Development

Digital Content Management: PMN will migrate from its existing digital content management system to a new state-of-the-art system. The new software technology will enhance the experience for users on PMN’s website and mobile products, as well as improve ease of use for reporters and editors as they create multimedia digital content for readers.

Digital Journalism Training: The American Society of News Editors will run its Digital Journalism Leadership Training program at PMN. One-half of the participants will be invited from other newsrooms in the Philadelphia area.

Diverse and Growing Audiences

Newsroom and Audience Diversity: PMN will launch a rolling two-year newsroom fellowship program that will fund emerging journalists from diverse backgrounds to work in the PMN newsroom, receive active mentorship, and help PMN create a newsroom and an audience that is more representative of the population of the Philadelphia region.

Opinion Section Contributors Network: In order to diversify the voices expressed in the opinion section of PMN’s digital and print products, PMN will create an expanded contributors network consisting of influencers from a broad array of communities throughout the region.

Audience Engagement: PMN will launch a reader-centered reporting program called “Curious Philly,” using Hearken, a survey platform that enables journalists to engage their audience throughout the reporting process. PMN will deepen community engagement by reaching out to readers so they can pose questions and topic areas for PMN to address in its reporting.

Here are the inaugural Entrepreneurs in Residence and Local News Innovation Grant recipients:

Innovation Grants

Backyard Media Company (Cambridge, Massachusetts)


Project lead: Amira Valliani                          

Backyard Media is building a marketplace for local podcast advertising. By connecting small-scale content creators with sponsors, they will empower content creators with the resources they need to do what they do best. As part of the Lenfest project, Backyard is doing a deep dive into the power of podcasts to improve local civic engagement and to democratize access to media. This fall, they will be creating a podcast-based guide to municipal elections in Cambridge and a mini-series on the future of audio-based news.

Berkeleyside Direct Public Offering (Berkeley, California)


Project lead: Tracey Taylor

In 2016, Berkeleyside, a local news site, created a direct public offering that allows investors of all sizes to buy shares of the company. This grant will allow Berkeleyside to finish the DPO and build out its membership program. Berkeleyside also plans to create a reader revenue toolkit to share what it learns with others.

Center for Investigative Reporting with WHYY (Emeryville, California, and Philadelphia)


Project lead: Hannah Young

CIR will launch a second round of user testing for its Amplify tool, which allows listeners to engage with an episode via SMS text messaging. This test will be associated with a special fall 2017 episode of CIR’s Reveal podcast about immigration that it is co-producing with WHYY. Reveal will work with WHYY to release Amplify to a broadcast audience for the first time, as well as across the national podcast audience.

Engaging News Project (Austin, Texas)


Project lead: Dr. Talia Jomini Stroud

The Engaging News Project, based at the University of Texas at Austin, will undertake research focused on mobile news engagement, including identifying best practices for the type, placement, and labeling of links to recommended articles on mobile pages.

Facet (Mountain View, California)


Project lead: Heather Bryant

Facet is an open-source platform that helps newsrooms manage editorial collaborations within and between organizations. Facet provides infrastructure to empower newsrooms to manage the logistics of creating, editing, and distributing content, managing projects and facilitating collaborative relationships.

News Revenue Hub (San Diego)


Project lead: Mary Walter-Brown

The News Revenue Hub works with news organizations to monetize their audiences through membership programs. The Hub plans to continue to test its centralized services business model and expand its offerings for news organizations. It also will establish a real-time learning laboratory in multiple news organizations in Philadelphia and across the United States to more effectively test different technologies and strategies for converting casual users to paying members or subscribers.

Philadelphia Public School Notebook (Philadelphia)


Project lead: Maria Archangelo

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook covers the city’s public schools, and its goal is to improve its engagement with students and parents in the city. The Notebook plans to create a more accessible interactive digital version of its already-popular guide to Philadelphia high schools.

Philadelphia Solutions Journalism Project (Philadelphia)


Project lead: Jean Friedman-Rudovsky

This project is a collaboration of Philadelphia’s general interest, community and multicultural newsrooms to carry out solutions-oriented reporting and community engagement on critical issues facing the city. The project initially covered prisoner re-entry to society and now plans to expand the topics of its coverage. The grant will assist the news collaborative with its organizational capacity and strategic planning as well as its news coverage. Participating organizations include the Temple University Klein College of Media and Communication, The Philadelphia Citizen, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News,, the Muhlenberg College Department of Media and Communication, Generocity, WHYY, PhillyCAM, The Philadelphia Tribune, El Zol Philly, WURD, El Sol, Billy Penn, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, and Next City.

Technically Media (Philadelphia)


Project lead: Chris Wink

Technically Media is a Philadelphia-based news and events company that operates in five cities throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. It plans to create a platform for collectively marketing local news memberships and exploring a joint membership offering with an initial collective of Philadelphia-based news outlets.

Vigilant (New York City)


Project lead: Mike Phillips

Vigilant is a research and intelligence platform for public records. The company plans to build a local newswire sourced from Philadelphia public records data and then use natural language generation technology to convert the data into narrative news briefs.

WHYY Creating Culturally Competent Newsrooms (Philadelphia)


Project lead: Sandra Clark

WHYY Creating Culturally Competent Newsrooms will build two-way collaboration whereby WHYY and other Philadelphia-based reporters will train community members in storytelling and community partners will train reporters about their communities. The project will seek active participation from throughout Philadelphia and partnership with a broad-based group of mainstream and multicultural news media.

WURD Radio on Violence (Philadelphia)


Project lead: Sara Lomax-Reese

WURD, Philadelphia’s only independently owned and operated African American talk radio station, will create a multimedia partnership between several media and academic institutions to investigate and report on the violence epidemic in Philadelphia’s African American communities. Initial members of the growing partnership include WURD, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Temple University.

Entrepreneurs in Residence

Sandeep Ayyappan


Sandeep Ayyappan is the CEO and founder of Wiser, a curator of news and information for corporate users. Ayyappan will use his startup background to help local news outlets and Lenfest Innovation grantees develop customer-oriented, data-driven news products and help them to innovate more quickly.

Austin Smith


Austin Smith is CEO of Alley Interactive, a digital agency that provides strategy, research, design, and technology consulting services to news publishers. Smith wants to create a digital-first news platform to help re-invent local news.

Kyree Terrell


Kyree Terrell is the founder and CEO of MyNewPhilly, an outlet that produces video-first content that highlights “the people, places, and projects that make Philadelphia a great place to live, work, and play.” Terrell will work with legacy news outlets throughout Philadelphia to help them enhance their social video strategies.

Steven Waldman


Steven Waldman is co-founder of Report For America. Modeled on Teach for America and Venture for America, Report for America is a new philanthropic model intended to strengthen journalism, enrich communities, and help restore trust in news media by deploying a new generation of journalists to serve local news organizations. Waldman is also the founder of, CEO of, a correspondent for Newsweek, and author of the FCC's landmark report on local news. He also served as senior adviswr to the Corporation for National Service and wrote a book on the creation of AmeriCorps.

David Wertime


David Wertime previously co-founded Tea Leaf Nation, a site that scanned, aggregated, synthesized, and translated Chinese social media chatter for a Western audience. The business was later sold to Graham Holdings Company. At the Institute, Wertime plans to create a university-focused news and discussion platform. Written by students, but for readers nationwide, it will link campus correspondents into an integrated contributor network that breaks down barriers between those being covered and those doing the reporting. Wertime plans to use Philadelphia-based universities as a pilot. He will also work with Philadelphia-based news organizations on their strategies for building contributor networks that include diverse voices from the local community.


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