Will Inky, WHYY Compete for Grant Money?

Is this town big enough for two large-scale, grant-funded reporting enterprises? We’re about to find out.

Tuesday’s announcement that the Philadelphia Media Network — owner of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com — was converting to non-profit ownership in order to attract grant money raised eyebrows across town at public radio station WHYY, whose own non-profit reporting efforts are, of course, largely paid for by grants and donations.

We asked Tuesday if the philanthropic pie was big enough to support both news organizations. It seems that WHYY officials have the same question on their mind.

“There is real potential that we will have more competition for our own fundraising among the donor community,” WHYY CEO Bill Marazzo said in a Tuesday email to staff, adding: “I have no doubt that WHYY has the quality of staff and the depth of experience in news and information to fully meet the challenges ahead.” Read more »

What They’re Saying About the Inky’s New Non-Profit Ownership

inquirer daily news newspapers

As expected, the news industry is taking notice of Gerry Lenfest’s decision to transfer ownership of Philly’s major newspapers — the Inquirer and Daily News, along with Philly.com — to a newly created non-profit institute.

After years of declining revenues and staff cuts, newspapers around the country want to see if Lenfest has hit upon the answer — finally — to guaranteeing the future of large-scale community news coverage. The verdict? There seem to be as many questions as answers.

Here’s what they’re saying: Read more »

10 Burning Questions About the Inquirer‘s New Nonprofit Ownership

Gerry Lenfest enters Tuesday's ownership announcement at the National Constitution Center | Joel Mathis for Philly Mag.

Gerry Lenfest enters Tuesday’s ownership announcement at the National Constitution Center. Photo | Joel Mathis

Three themes emerged from Tuesday morning’s formal announcement that Philadelphia Media Network — owner of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com — is being placed under the ownership of a new non-profit institute.

First: The new ownership structure will halt the revolving-door ownership that has afflicted the company with five different ownership groups over the last decade or so. That, in turn, should provide stability for a news organization that has been mired in chaos and, at times, bankruptcy during that time.

“It is, I think, a perfect combination for the future of journalism in Philadelphia,” said Gerry Lenfest, who created the nonprofit — the Institute for Journalism in New Media (IJNM) — and “donated” the papers to it.

Second: The non-profit structure will make it easier for the papers to seek financial sustainability by attracting grant funding to help pay for their journalism.

And third: There’s still a lot of work to be done to figure out how to make large-scale journalism pay for itself in the 21st century. Today’s announcement doesn’t preclude the possibility that there could be layoffs at the papers later this year if advertising revenues continue to decline.

In the short term, PMN publisher Terry Egger said, the new ownership structure “doesn’t solve our problems.” Richard Fox, the Dilworth Paxson attorney who oversaw the arrangements, added: “This is not a short-term measure. It’s a long-term measure.”

So what does the new ownership structure do? We’ll try to answer the biggest questions raised by this situation based on public documents and discussions with various officials involved in the transaction, including Egger and Fox. Read more »

New Editor Named at Philly.com

Eric Ulken wide

Eric Ulken is the new editor of Philly.com, the website’s parent company announced today.

The announcement came one day after Mike Topel announced he is departing the position. Ulken had served at Topel’s side as Philly.com’s director of digital strategy since 2014. His old position will be consolidated with his new duties.

“Effective immediately, Eric Ulken will take on oversight of the editorial operations of Philly.com in addition to his existing product strategy and audience development responsibilities,” Stan Wischnowski, vice president of news operations for Philadelphia Media Network, said in a memo distributed today to the newsroom. “In this expanded role, Eric will be a more active presence in the newsroom, helping to guide our digital transformation and build our capacity to deliver the most relevant and useful journalism to the right audiences in the right formats at the right time.”

Ulken previously served in digital posts at the Seattle Times and L.A. Times.

“Philly.com has great traffic, and a great audience in the sense that it’s a desirable audience for advertisers,” he told Philly Mag in 2014. “It’s an audience that we think has a lot of potential to grow and to engage.  I think of Philly.com as having a lot of potential as a premium product, both for users and advertisers. A place where we can run the big Sunday stories and we can also cover breaking news in an effective and compelling way.”

Read Wischnowski’s full memorandum below:

From Stan Wischnowski, Vice President of News Operations for PMN:

As you may have heard, Mike Topel will be leaving PMN for a new editing opportunity at NBC in New York. His last day will be Jan. 15. Mike, an Inquirer veteran who held many editing roles here before working a short time at Digital First Media’s Project Thunderdome, brought new energy and instilled a collaborative spirit to Philly.com and the other newsrooms during his time as the website’s executive editor. I’m grateful for his contributions and wish him the best.

Effective immediately, Eric Ulken will take on oversight of the editorial operations of Philly.com in addition to his existing product strategy and audience development responsibilities. In this expanded role, Eric will be a more active presence in the newsroom, helping to guide our digital transformation and build our capacity to deliver the most relevant and useful journalism to the right audiences in the right formats at the right time. He brings to this effort years of experience in change management initiatives in other newsrooms.

Eric came to Philly from The Seattle Times, where he was the director of product management for seattletimes.com, overseeing the business performance of The Times’ flagship digital product, including revenue from advertising and subscriptions. Before that he served as the paper’s assistant managing editor for digital, directing the producer team and coordinating the newsroom’s overall digital strategy.

Eric was previously the editor for interactive technology at the Los Angeles Times, where he led the creation of the Data Desk, a cross-functional team of developers, designers, and reporters responsible for producing data-driven journalism projects. He also served as the managing editor for news at latimes.com

Under Eric’s direction, Philly.com successfully unveiled a mobile site relaunch last month and will launch a full redesign by the end of March. He is one of the team leaders of the Temple-Knight digital transformation project involving PMN, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Miami Herald and The Dallas Morning News.

Some details of the transition remain to be worked out. The critical real-time desk initiative that Mike has been overseeing proceeds apace under the direction of Gabe Escobar and Frank Kummer, and we will have more to share about that very soon.

Philly.com Editor Departs for NY Job

mike topel

Mike Topel, the executive editor of Philly.com, is departing that position for a job in New York.

A spokesperson for Philadelphia Media Network confirmed today that Topel will start his new job on Jan. 18. Details of the new venture are still under wraps.

“While we hate to lose him because of his significant impact here at PMN, we wish him the very best in his next chapter,” PMN’s Amy Buckman said in a statement emailed to Philly Mag. Read more »

2015: The Year in Philly Media

2015 in Philly Media

In a way, covering the big stories is easy.

When there’s a big story to be covered, it’s easy to forget we’re in an era of profound, sometimes painful evolution in the Philadelphia media scene. Maybe the city’s major newspapers had to cut nearly 50 journalists during the holidays, but the big story demands that editors at legacy media outlets forget about diminishing resources for a second and throw everything they have it — and that editors at startup outlets, well, forget their still-insufficient resources and try to report bigger and better than their staffs would suggest.

One look at 2015 would tell you that three or four really big stories happened in Philadelphia this year — the Amtrak crash, the visit of Pope Francis, the race to succeed Mayor Nutter, and the conglomeration of scandals, miseries and indignities that we’ll just go ahead and lump together under the “Porngate” brand — and sure enough, there was an astonishing amount of good journalism from a range of sources about each of these stories.

But there was good journalism being done in the quieter moments too. And not always from expected sources. Those stories and sources deserve recognition, too. Read more »

“Gerry the Grinch” Parody Takes Aim at Newspaper Layoffs

A website and Twitter account dubbing Gerry Lenfest a “grinch” hope to persuade — or maybe just embarrass — the owner of Philly’s biggest news organization to reverse recent layoffs. Read more »

Was Urban Outfitters-Vetri Deal in Part About Loneliness?

Urban Vetri

There was a lot of head-scratching this week when Urban Outfitters, struggling in sales, purchased the Vetri Family restaurant group. I understand the concern over a beloved local figure and craftsman “selling out” to a corporation famous for flannel and failed attempts at irony. But Urban and the Vetri people have worked together for years, and two big Philly power players are a match made in business heaven. (For those still bummed: The crown jewel Vetri-name restaurant wasn’t sold. Marc Vetri and co. also pledge to oversee all their Philly restaurants as usual — we’ll certainly notice if they don’t.)

The most interesting thing about this deal isn’t the people involved. It’s one of the reasons Urban’s chief development officer, Dave Ziel, gave for the purchase: filling a social void. As Ziel told Philly.com, “We think retailing needs to become more experiential … I think there’s a craving for real socializing beyond social media.” Read more »

Can Laid-Off Philly Journos Build Their Own News Organization?

Shutterstock.com

Shutterstock.com

George Miller isn’t quite sure what a new local news organization would look like, nor how one would get funding for a startup — but he does believe there’s room in Philly’s media ecosystem for another player, especially now that the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com are laying off nearly 50 journalists and support staffers.

That’s why Miller, publisher of Jump Philly music magazine and an associate professor at Temple University, is hosting “Let’s Start Our Own News Org” tonight, a brainstorming session for those who care about Philadelphia and the media who cover the city.

“Basically, the idea was, in two weeks there are people who are losing their jobs,” he said of the layoffs at Philadelphia Media Network. “It seems like a lot of people are leaving journalism and aren’t all that upset about it, but I was upset about it — I don’t want to lose all that talent from the city.” Read more »

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