Digital transformation of major newsrooms focus of new $4.8 million project

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Lenfest Institute for Journalism today announced $4.8 million in new funding to expand a project that helps advance digital transformation at local news organizations across the country.

In October 2015, with support from Knight Foundation, Temple University’s School of Media and Communication announced the Knight-Temple Table Stakes project designed to help four major metropolitan daily news organizations accelerate a shift to digital from print, evolving their practices to reach new audiences and better engage their readers and their communities. The project involved the development and application of the technology, workflows, roles and skills required to sustain a successful news digital organization. More than 50 leaders from four leading news organizations—The Dallas Morning News; the Miami Herald; the Minneapolis Star Tribune; and Philadelphia Media Network, which is home to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and—spent a year focused on creating approaches to advance digital transformation.

Building on strong early results, the initiative is being expanded under a new name, the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, signaling the introduction of a new leadership partner, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, based in Philadelphia. Knight Foundation is committing $3.3 million, adding to its $1.3 million in previous support. The Lenfest Institute for Journalism is investing $1.5 million.

“This project is rooted in collaboration. Bringing together major news organizations and experts in technology, journalism and other areas, it recognizes the importance of a concerted, strategic effort to address the challenges that local news organizations are facing in the digital age,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism. “This next phase will help to create a model for the digital transformation of news organizations that can be shared across the country, helping local journalists better connect with their audiences and develop new innovations in storytelling.”

“We are honored and delighted by the new Knight-Lenfest partnership. The newsroom initiative has enjoyed impressive and measurable success in helping transform the news business in Philadelphia, Dallas, Minneapolis and Miami,” said Jim Friedlich, executive director and CEO of The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. “Never have the stakes for local news been higher, or the need for greater investment and expertise more apparent.”

Under the leadership of project director Douglas K. Smith, new funding will help Temple University and other partners expand the team-based change-management approach over three years to 12 new major metropolitan newsrooms, and extend the method to newsrooms of varying size and type. The Lenfest Institute for Journalism’s team of news industry experts will provide additional guidance to participants in audience development, content management technology, product development, digital subscriptions and user experience.

The 2017 news organizations include diverse representatives from across the country, as well as both independent news organizations and those owned by larger groups: The Seattle Times, The Bay Area News Group (Digital First Media), the Houston Chronicle (Hearst), and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Gannett) will join the program for the first time. Philadelphia Media Network (The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and will continue as a major participant undertaking new newsroom investments and product development under the Knight-Lenfest program.

The second phase of the initiative will also include a collaboration with the Center for Innovation & Sustainability in Local Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Media and Journalism, leveraging a $3 million commitment from Knight Foundation and $1 million from the UNC Office of the Provost awarded in 2015. Working with project leadership, the center will help develop an approach to spread lessons from the project to local and regional news organizations. It will work with eight to 12 media organizations throughout North Carolina, including newspapers, radio and television stations, and digital startups, to create a network of sustainable news outlets that can tackle digital-age challenges head-on and address the threat of news deserts.

In addition, The Poynter Institute will receive funding ($880,000) to guide and coach newsrooms across the country through digital and cultural transformation. The Poynter program, centered on best practices developed during the first year of the initiative, will shape the way media organizations approach and achieve sustainable digital publishing.
Poynter will offer intensive teaching and coaching to up to 20 local news organizations of varying sizes, geographies and ownership models over three years. The training for each annual cohort will include in-person conferences, online seminars and virtual coaching. Information about the selection process for the 2017 cohort will be available soon.

To accelerate digital and cultural change, Poynter will further provide all media organizations and journalists around the country access to the key takeaways from the project through a series of online courses on its News University e-learning platform ( and robust coverage via a new Innovation Channel on The institute will also incorporate lessons from the project into its other programs, including its annual workshop for educators, Teachapalooza, and its leadership seminars.

The American Press Institute will lead an effort to document and spread best practices from the project through an interactive digital hub funded by Knight. It will also produce research and information for other organizations working on transforming their newsrooms from primarily print to digital—focusing on developing best practices around mobile, audience development and analytics.

The Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative is supported by industry and academic experts, as well as leading researchers in the field. It is led by Douglas K. Smith, a leading organizational change practitioner with wide experience in helping industries adapt to evolving conditions, and Arlene Morgan, assistant dean for external affairs at Temple’s School of Media and Communication; Temple University Professor Aron Pilhofer, and Burt Herman and Ken Herts of The Lenfest Institute. Also involved is Smith’s colleague Quentin Hope and consultant Charles Baum, leading news industry experts; Tom Rosenstiel, executive director, American Press Institute; Jeff Sonderman, deputy director, American Press Institute; and Poynter President Tim Franklin.

Funding for this project is part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to help meet local information needs by supporting local and regional news ecosystems, while helping news organizations establish long-term sustainability in the digital age through innovation and transformation. Knight has made many investments in this area, including the $1.5 million Knight News Match, which supported the efforts of 57 local and nonprofit news organizations in building their membership and donor base.
The project is among the first major investments of The Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

SOURCE: The Knight Foundation