Major Philadelphia newspapers to survive digital challenge

The owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and its two other news outlets said Tuesday he has donated them to a new media institute, in a bid for them to survive the digital challenge.

H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, a U.S. media entrepreneur and philanthropist who owns the Philadelphia Media Network (PMN) that controls The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and, said he will also donate an initial 20 million U.S. dollars to the newly created Institute for Journalism in New Media, a nonprofit organization under the Philadelphia Foundation.

"My goal 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," Lenfest said.

The move, which came after the PMN announced last November plans to lay off 46 journalists, was the the latest retrenchment in a decade of cutbacks, buyouts, layoffs, and management and ownership upheaval.

It was taken at a time when the abundance of free news on the Web has gutted newspaper staffs, revenues, and advertising.

"Of all the things I've done, this is the most important," said Lenfest, who with business partner Lewis Katz won control of the PMN in May 2014.

The deal sets out mechanisms by which public-interest reporting can be preserved and enhanced while new electronic distribution methods are developed.

To evolve in an increasingly online future, Lenfest said, the news company must meet readers where they choose to read -- and find fresh ways for advertisers to engage the audience.

Subscribers and readers will see no immediate changes, and the company's contracts with its labor unions remain in force.

The new structure, however, opens philanthropic avenues to fund the company's journalism. Foundations, corporations, and other benefactors can donate money to the institute to be used for specific reporting efforts as well as journalism projects and undertakings.

Such linkage of news company, new media institute, and foundation offers potential hope in a desperate economic environment for traditional news outlets.

PMN publisher and CEO Terrance C.Z. Egger said this is "a long view about the funding and future of journalism."

Egger cautioned that the new structure offers no quick fix to the economic woes that confront traditional news companies. PMN remains a self-governing, for-profit company, needing ultimately to fail or succeed on its journalistic merits and financial performance.

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