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Will $5M donation for new media institute be enough?

Thursday, June 16, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Amy Seasholtz
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First, the news:

David Haas and the Wyncote Foundation will give a combined $5 million to an endowment that seeks to secure the future of quality journalism in the Philadelphia region - and help the Inquirer, the Daily News, and in particular.

Now, the news about the news:

A Knight Foundation study released Wednesday examines the challenges facing Philadelphia Media Network, owner of the newspapers and website, and deems them considerable.

For a major news company to thrive in the future, the study said, it needs to spend now on innovation and experimentation. And it's not entirely clear from where that money will come.

The study, Could It Be Sunny in Philadelphia?, explores the upheaval in the news business and at the region's major news-gatherer, and scrutinizes its plan to go forward under the auspices of the nonprofit Philadelphia Foundation.

"Knight is concerned, not just in Philadelphia, but in all the cities where it works, with increasing support for journalism," said Jon Sotsky, director of strategy and assessment. "We're starting to document the earliest stages of an effort that might have interesting insights."

In January, H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest shook the media landscape when he announced that he had donated the Inquirer, Daily News, and to the newly created Institute for Journalism in New Media. The institute was placed under the arm of the Philadelphia Foundation.

The move opens philanthropic avenues to fund the company's journalism, allowing charities, corporations, and other benefactors to give to the institute to support reporting projects and new ways of disseminating news.

Lenfest gave $20 million to endow the institute, but said much more would be needed. The Knight report offered the first sign that more was coming.

It said Haas gave $1 million in April, and pledged $500,000 more a year through 2020. The Wyncote Foundation, where Haas sits on the board, also committed $500,000 a year - for $5 million total.

"I'm confident this new structure will serve to address critical challenges - and seize opportunities - in journalism today," Haas said in an email Tuesday. "I'm proud to support it with my personal contributions, as well as through my recommendation to the Wyncote Foundation to provide grant support."

Lenfest serves on PMN's board and chairs the board of the journalism institute - to which, he said Tuesday, he intends to make further donations.

"I've said all along, for journalism to continue after printed newspapers are gone, it may require philanthropic support, and that's the basis for having created the institute," Lenfest said. "There's a lot of interest nationally. They're interested in what we're doing, to see whether it has traction."

A big question is whether donors will step up. The report notes that some funders don't invest in journalism because of the uncertainty of the industry and the difficulty of gauging a project's impact.

"Foundations, national and local, will be on the institute's fund-raising radar," the study said. "With a significant arts and public media scene already in place in Philadelphia, is there enough philanthropic support to go around?"