H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, the sole owner and chair of Philadelphia Media Network, the holding company for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com, has announced that he is donating the media properties to a newly created nonprofit media institute.
According to a press release, the Institute for Journalism in New Media will operate under a special assets fund associated with the Philadelphia Foundation and, as such, will be able to receive philanthropic funding for specific projects. Lenfest also will give $20 million to endow the institute, which is likely to be headquartered in Philadelphia or New York City. A key goal of the institute, said Lenfest, is to explore content-delivery models that eventually could assume the role of printed newspapers, with PMN properties serving as a laboratory. To protect the editorial independence of the three media properties, PMN will operate as a taxable subsidiary of the institute under its current management team and board of directors, and there will be no immediate changes in their offerings or staffing.
In November, PMN announced plans to lay off forty-six journalists, in what looked to be the latest retrenchment in a decade of cutbacks, buyouts, layoffs, and management and ownership upheaval at the two papers and their joint Web operation. The new structure, which does not give the institute governance authority over the newspapers or website and does not involve a transfer of funds to underwrite PMN's general operating expenses or cover its deficits, ensures that the two newsrooms will remain "fiercely independent," said PMN publisher and CEO Terrance C.Z. Egger.
Lenfest, who together with the late Lewis Katz bought the company at auction for $88 million in May 2014, said he had been thinking for the better part of a year about a structure that could support local journalism for decades to come. Donating $20 million directly to PMN would have provided only a temporary fix, he said, whereas the gift to the institute will help ensure the continuation of local journalism, as opposed to a particular distribution format.
"My goal," Lenfest said, "is to ensure that the journalism traditionally provided by the printed newspapers is given a new life and prolonged, while new media formats for its distribution are being developed. Of all the ventures I have been involved with in my life, nothing is more important than preserving the journalism that has been delivered by these storied news organizations."