Lenfest “Donates” Philly Newspapers to New Nonprofit Media Foundation

The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News newspapers sit on display on a newsstand in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News newspapers sit on display on a newsstand in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Gerry Lenfest has created a nonprofit foundation to own Philadelphia Media Network — the company that owns the Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com — and endowed the new institute with $20 million as it oversees the newspapers’ continued operation.

The move places the papers under the auspices of the Philadelphia Foundation, transforming the biggest news operation in America’s fifth-largest city into an unprecedented experiment in preserving large-scale newsgathering in the fast-changing — and fast-diminishing — newspaper industry.

The news was first reported Monday night at Philly.com. A formal announcement will take place at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the National Constitution Center.

“I think it’s unprecedented for a big American newspaper to be turned into a nonprofit,” Rosental C. Alves, Director of Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, told Philly Mag late Monday night. 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 »

Mythbuster: Suicide Is Not More Common During the Holidays

Going "Home for the Holidays" can be chore — but it's no worse than during the rest of the year.

Going “Home for the Holidays” can be chore — but it’s no worse than during the rest of the year.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center at Penn has some good news for people who appreciate accuracy in media: Last year, for the first time in four years, there was a decrease in the number of news stories that falsely associated holiday time with suicide. Annenberg’s analysis notes that the lowest suicide rate is between mid-November and January, yet for many years the majority of news outlets tended to perpetuate the holiday-suicide myth rather than contradict it. Read more »

Sam Katz to Produce Kathleen Kane Documentary

Sam Katz, left. Kathleen Kane, right. (Kane photo, AP)

Sam Katz, left. Kathleen Kane, right. (Kane photo, AP)

The producers of Law & Order couldn’t top this if they tried: a gripping drama about a rising star politician whose charges of racism and misbehavior have laid low the careers of several other high-ranking politicians—and who finds herself in a fight for her own political life that she may well lose.

What’s more, the drama is unfolding around us right now, in real life, and documentary filmmaker Sam Katz is planning to tell the whole story. The film, to be called The Kane Mutiny, is about Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane and the myriad scandals surrounding her.

Katz announced the film Thursday afternoon.

“This is very different” from a typical political intrigue, he told Philly Mag. “I want to make a film that people will want to watch, one that opens up a different prism into American politics and government.”

Read more »

“Gerry the Grinch” Website Receives Cease-and-Desist Letter

gerry lenfest parody site

It would appear the fake Gerry Lenfest has the real Gerry Lenfest’s attention.

In the aftermath of the layoffs at Philadelphia Media Network — which owns the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com — an anonymous critic created the “Gerry the Grinch” Twitter account, and posted longer-form missives at GerryLenfest.com, both criticizing (and sometimes pleading with) Lenfest for the job reductions. Now a lawyer from PMN has sent the site’s owner a cease-and-desist letter, demanding that website’s domain name be transferred to the ownership of Lenfest himself.

The letter was posted Thursday afternoon at the Twitter account.

Read more »

Daily News Cover Compares Trump to Hitler

[Updated at noon with comment from editor]

Nothing subtle about this:

It will be interesting to see the reaction today. What else is there to say? People were wondering if the tabloid paper could maintain its sassiness in the wake of deep-cutting layoffs and the move to combine newsrooms with the Inquirer. Consider this, perhaps, a declaration of intent.

“We’re never done being sassy,” said Mike Days, the Daily News‘ editor, late this morning. By noon, the cover had been featured in the Washington Post, at Talking Points Memo, and on Poynter, among other outlets.

“The phone’s not ringing off the hook, but it’s been retweeted a number of times,” Days said.

Days said that during Monday news meetings, the focus was heavily on Trump’s comments that Muslims should be banned from entering the United States.

“There was widespread agreement we needed to find a way to lead with it today,” Days said. “We were able to marry a really good photo to what I felt were the right words.”

And if the Daily News’ future has seemed somewhat in doubt of late, Days suggested that the cover — along with similar covers by the New York Daily News — shows the benefit of having multiple newspaper outlets in a market: That gives at least one the freedom to make provocative statements on the front page.

“We call it the way we see it,” Days said. “When we do it, we really mean it.”

An Incomplete List of Things Deemed the “New Philadelphia Story”

rooster-soup-new-philadelphia-story-940x540

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal wrote about Rooster Soup Company. Funded in part by a Kickstarter backing, Rooster Soup Co. is the brainchild of Bill Golderer, Steven Cook and Mike Solomonov. Profits from the restaurant, which will open next year, will fund the Broad Street Hospitality Collaborative.

It’s all really cool. But the WSJ’s headline struck me as funny: “The New Philadelphia Story: Eat, Pay, Give.” While there are three people involved in the creation of Rooster Soup Co., much like the three main characters of the 1940 film (and 1939 play) The Philadelphia Story, that’s where the similarity ends. The Philadelphia Story is a screwball comedy of remarriage; none of the particulars in Rooster Soup Co. are marrying, let alone remarrying, each other.

Headline references are supposed to make sense. My father, longtime deputy sports editor at the Daily News has a way with headlines that I will never match. When the Eagles signed Michael Vick in 2009, people suggested a “Vick’s VapoRub” headline to him constantly. Cute, right? The problem is: How the hell would this headline ever make any sense? Only if Michael Vick took up vaping, and it led to a drop in performance, could this headline be plausible. But back in 2009 people still called vaping “smoking e-cigarettes,” so it wasn’t really a possibility. Read more »

Philly’s “Isis” Radio Station Considers Changing Its Name

iRadioPhilly logo

iRadioPhilly is a group of Internet radio stations local to the city. The streaming radio site broadcast the pope’s visit and the World Meeting of Families, and has a channel dedicated to Philly artists and talk radio.

It also has one dedicated to pop hits, aimed at women. Five years ago, iRadioPhilly came up with a name for that station. It chose Isis. Whoops. Read more »

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