On Jan. 11, H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, owner of the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com, donated the news organizations to a “new media” institute: the Philadelphia Institute, philly.com reported.
David Boardman, dean of the School of Media and Communication, told The Temple News he believes in Lenfest—a university trustee since October 2013—and his vision to try and keep Philadelphia newspapers profitable.
“Gerry Lenfest is driven very much by wanting to protect public service journalism,” Boardman said. “[Print journalism] is still the largest newsgathering force.”
Boardman—who was selected to be on the PMN’s board of managers that oversees the news organizations—said in the short term, there will be little to no immediate and apparent change to the day-to-day operations of the publications.
Since 2006, there have been six different owners of the organizations, including the new institute. Andrew Mendelson, associate dean and professor of the graduate school of journalism at the City University of New York, said Lenfest’s decision should reverse that trend.
“Shifting it to this institute will give it a bit of stability, protecting it from being sold again and again,” Mendelson said. Mendelson was also formerly the chair of the department of journalism from 2006-14.
“We’re in great company with Penn and Drexel,” Boardman said of fellow universities on the board. “It means we’re involved in some of the ideation,” he added.
“I’m very familiar with the challenges and opportunities the newspapers face,” Boardman said concerning his decision to join the board.
With Boardman and administrators from other universities on the board, students will “hopefully have a front row seat to watch and participate,” he said.
Mendelson said one difficulty for PMN will be making money in a market that has been declining for the past decade. The Inquirer reported last October that the organization lost $90 million in revenue since 2010.
“It doesn’t solve the problem of them coming up with ways to create sustainable, competing, independent content,” Mendelson said. “This doesn’t get them off the hook of making a profit.”
PMN is organized under the nonprofit Philadelphia Foundation. Mendelson said concerns about donations affecting reporting are legitimate, but preserving the integrity of the news organizations should be the priority.
“Money can skew anything,” Mendelson said. “The source of money can influence the nature of the institute … [but] foundation money isn’t the end-all, be-all.”
“I don’t think that should be a reason not to have this setup, new systems just have to be put into place to prevent that,” he added.
The relationship between advertisers and the publications is dependent on the readership, Mendelson said.
“Advertisers are only going to participate if they feel a connection to the audience they want to reach,” he said.
PMN will face challenges and concerns like continuing to build a sustainable business plan to support a diminishing subscribership, but Mendelson said he’s optimistic about the future of the organization.
“It’s pretty exciting to see,” Mendelson said. “I hope it fosters longevity in news institutions in Philly.”
Lian Parsons can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Lian_Parsons