William Penn Foundation three-year $2.4 million investment in Philly journalism

The William Penn Foundation board of directors has pledged a three-year $2.4 million grant to Temple University to incubate “a new organization designed to strengthen our region’s capacity for professionally-produced public interest journalism,” as described by strategic consultant Michael Greenle.

“This will fund journalism, support other outlets and find and cover gaps in coverage,” said Greenle in a small meeting of stakeholders yesterday. It may likely take at least a year for real momentum to happen here. Various matching grant efforts are expected to boost that overall total, in addition to future revenue plans, Greenle said.

In 2011, the grant would create a collaborative Center for Public Interest Journalism housed at Temple, which would serve three main functions:

  1. ‘One Stop Shopping’ — Centralized resources from Temple that could benefit public affairs journalism in the region (like MPIP, the computer science program, the journalism program) to be offered to partners in some way.
  2. Incubate Collaboration — This center will incubate a collaborative effort that will take a more active role in public affairs journalism that could very well look like this or portions of this. Or not. That’s to be left up to senior staff, as explained below.
  3. Host Events — Create a broader dialogue among journalists by housing the existing Phiji series and, as I thought, perhaps involving the BarCamp NewsInnovation event we and Technically Philly have put hosted at Temple.

The foundation’s interest in this space was first addressed publicly here after a stakeholders meeting last January. Greenle’s recommendations and work with the foundation follows previous research from the JLab institute announced in April. This project is influenced by proposals set forth by my colleagues and me at Technically Philly.

Steps Forward, as described to me:

  • Hiring a CEO: In January, a search committee that includes mostly Temple faculty and foundation staff will hire a search firm to find the leader of this initiative. Greenle says the foundation and university hope to bring on the CEO by April or May. *It’s important to note that all of the purest direction for this initiative seems to be on hold until this person is hired.
  • Establish aforementioned Center: This will be a university-related center with the three roles noted above. It will have a university-staff advisory board.
  • Hire additional senior staff: Including proposed (a) network editor, (b) IT director and (c) revenue director.
  • Create new entity: The new collaborative organization that will be incubated at the university but is planned to be spun off to have independence. It would have a separate advisory board.
  • Create strategic plan: To highlight what the CEO wants to do with his/her staff, nonprofit, funding and broad network.

Other details of interest:

  • “This is more of a vision, than a plan,” says Temple interim Communications Dean Thomas Jacobson — All the firm details will come on when the CEO is hired.
  • “This won’t be competing with anyone,” says Greenle — Representatives from Philly newspapers were on hand and the foundation has always said they don’t want to compete with existing news entities but instead bolster meaningful public affairs journalism.
  • “The United Way of Journalism,” says Chris Satullo of WHYY in noting how he understood the foundation and university to be describing a function of its proposed entity
  • A focus on sustainability and business services for this project was influenced by our proposed News Inkubator concept. Update: This initiative was influenced by our proposals.

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