Knight Foundation, Lenfest Institute announce new $20M fund for local journalism

The late philanthropist H.F. 'Gerry' Lenfest, center, who died in August. The Lenfest Institute and the Knight Foundation are teaming up to give $20 million to strengthen local journalism in Philadelphia and other cities across the country. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The late philanthropist H.F. 'Gerry' Lenfest, center, who died in August. The Lenfest Institute and the Knight Foundation are teaming up to give $20 million to strengthen local journalism in Philadelphia and other cities across the country. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Local journalism in Philadelphia and cities across the country is getting a $20 million boost, thanks to a new fund from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

The nonprofits announced Sunday evening that they are each putting $10 million towards a 5-year collaborative effort to strengthen local news for the digital age starting in 2019.

Roughly half of the money will go to support news organizations in Philadelphia where the Knight Foundation and the Lenfest Institute — started in 2016 by philanthropist H. F. “Gerry” Lenfest, who died in August — have already supported initiatives at a number of local media outlets. At WHYY, a grant from the institute is funding an effort to create culturally competent newsrooms. The Knight Foundation also supports WHYY’s PlanPhilly project and Keystone Crossroads, WHYY’s statewide reporting collaborative.

The Lenfest Institute has also supported the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News’ investigative team, as well as Resolve Philadelphia, a collaborative approach to covering some of the city’s chronic issues, including poverty and prison reentry.

Jim Friedlich, executive director of the Lenfest Institute, said this new funding will “continue the current work and help amplify it.”

“It will allow us to go deeper and broader here in Philadelphia,” he said, “and it will allow us to take the work to other cities and scale what we’re doing here in Philadelphia to other metro regions.”

The balance of the funding will go to media outlets in other cities, which face unique challenges in serving younger and more diverse audiences, Friedlich said.

The new fund will also support change-management training for news leaders who are navigating their organizations’ shift to digital platforms, and will help create a “technology resource hub” to increase access to tools and expertise in data journalism, news analytics, audience engagement, product development, and revenue models.

“An informed citizenry is essential for a well-functioning democracy. Local news organizations ensure the people can determine their best interests,” said Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation president in a statement. “The Knight brothers believed that and so did Gerry Lenfest. We are thrilled to fund this collaboration, true to their fundamental beliefs.”

The Knight Foundation also announced Sunday that it is putting an additional $9 million toward arts and culture initiatives, including $5 million for a new Philadelphia Art and Technology Fund, and $4 million for citizen engagement in an effort to build a waterfront park over I-95 at Penn’s Landing.

Correction: The original version of this article included a typo in H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest’s name.

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