$50 million raised for endowment to benefit Philadelphia’s major daily newspapers

 (NewsWorks file photo)

(NewsWorks file photo)

The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, an experimental nonprofit based in Philadelphia, is now halfway to establishing a $100 million endowment to benefit local journalism – in particular, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, which philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest owned until last year.

Institute officials announced Wednesday the organization received $26.5 million from long list of local and national funders, including individuals and foundations.

The money will help pay for new content – particularly investigative journalism – and digital strategies.

Jim Friedlich, the institute’s executive director, said there’s also a goal to “take our work and best practices from Philadelphia to other cities around the country.”

Lenfest created the institute in January 2016 with hopes of preserving and enhancing quality journalism in the city and beyond. He gave its endowment $20 million to get it started.

So far, institute funds have supported projects such as “Toxic City,” an investigative series about lead poisoning in Philadelphia.

On Wednesday, Lenfest announced an additional $40 million matching donation.

“Great journalism is more vital to our democracy today than ever before and never has it faced such challenges,” said Lenfest in a statement.

Friedlich assured that, even as the institute’s endowment grows, it would not be difficult for the organization to avoid conflicts of interest with the individuals and foundations supporting reporting projects.

“We have modeled our conflict of interest and grant acceptance policies on NPR, public radio, ProPublica and other purveyors of best practices. Essentially, any donor knows and agrees up front that they are there to support journalism writ-large and not to influence coverage in any way,” said Friedlich.

The Lenfest Institute is housed under the nonprofit Philadelphia Foundation. The arrangement enables the papers and other media outlets to seek philanthropic donations to fund their reporting.

Philadelphia Media Network – owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com – has remained a self-governed, for-profit company.

A report about the institute released last June by the John L. and John S. Knight Foundation suggested the new for-profit/nonprofit hybrid could provide some stability for PMN, which has changed hands several times over the past decade.

What the setup might mean for the stability of the area’s entire media landscape remains to be seen.

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