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

Gerry Lenfest's experiment attracts national attention.

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:

Ken Doctor and Joe Pompeo write at Capital New York: “The plan aims to find new answers to questions of local journalistic sustainability, with product development and distribution questions noted. Yet, the non-newspaper digital news industry has innovated many new forms of both product and distribution, and ones that the industry, including Philly, has been too slow to adapt. Will this new money, and structure, be able to achieve what millions of dollars in Knight Foundation funding hasn’t yet accomplished?

“In short, will this first-of-a-kind arrangement produce a new, expansive and funded vision of community journalism?”

Columbia Journalism Review: “The move offers no immediate solution to the business struggles facing all metro newspapers, and early reactions about whether it was likely to spur meaningful innovation were mixed. But it should, at a minimum, provide a measure of stability at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com, which have been plagued by a series of ownership changes in recent years. And while the arrangement has some rough parallels in the industry, it also amounts to an experiment with a unique ownership structure for local media—major papers operating under the auspices of a leading community foundation.”

Rick Edmonds, writing for Poynter: “Lenfest agreed with my sense that this model could work other places — but only with private ownership, typically by one individual or family. Taking the New York Times to non-profit status, as a few outsiders looking in have occasionally proposed, would be a tangle of complex financial and legal difficulties in compensating both Sulzberger family and public shareholders fairly.

“Plus even a single owner needs to be willing to give the paper away — a barrier to such arrangements in more profitable times when family fortunes were tied up in that one investment.

David Chavern, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, said in a phone interview ‘My reaction is that it’s a very good thing for those papers and the city; it gives them a stable home and structure after years of [ownership] turmoil…but I’m not sure I see it as a broad answer for the industry.’”

Nonprofit Quarterly: “A note of caution: NPQ has recently covered a few stories, including one on the JFK Library, about the problems that can occur between related institutions with separate governing bodies awkwardly patched together. We look forward to watching this develop and seeing the details of how this will work and what it will produce.”

There’s more to come, we’re sure.