Shawn Mooring has always had an interest in social justice issues and empowering local communities. Now, as head of Philadelphia programs with the Lenfest Institute, he can facilitate change in his hometown.
The Lenfest Institute provides grant funding and sustainable business practice solutions for local news providers throughout Philadelphia and across the country.
Mooring said that the Lenfest Institute, like many other nonprofits, has to work to “bridge the gap” between fundraising dollars and the organization’s earned revenue, such as advertising or subscriptions.
“Some of these hyper-local publications that report on critical community issues and work … they would need to be philanthropically supported,” Mooring said.
Newsrooms across the country–and even worldwide–often find themselves scraping for resources to fund their reporting projects. Lenfest is one of the many organizations that helps publications work towards their financial goals.
Lenfest’s funding stems from a $20 million endowment from H. F. Gerry Lenfest, the organization’s founder, and namesake, who created it in 2016. Mooring said the Institute dedicates about $6 million to the Philadelphia Inquirer, about $2.5 to $3 million to Philadelphia’s broader news “ecosystem” and $1.5 million to other national initiatives.
Mooring said one of the challenges at Lenfest is balancing how to raise money, while also funneling it to other organizations and newsrooms who need funding.
“We are in a good position where we have money in the bank to spend a percentage of it to do good work, but it’s never enough,” Mooring said. “The need is so great that we’re constantly looking for ways to increase and have a greater impact in the work that we do.”
Funding newsrooms has continued to be a pressing topic within the journalism field including at the Online News Association’s annual conference in Philadelphia.
Several sessions and panels touched on the topic including a session called “How Philanthropy is Changing the Journalism Landscape.”
Manami Kano, a journalism strategist and philanthropic advisor for Kano Advertising, was a panelist and expressed some optimism about the way philanthropy has bolstered the work of local journalists.
“I have hopes for the ways that philanthropy has catalyzed and helped think about how we are rebuilding during this time of massive destruction [of local journalism],” said Kano. “One of the commitments that I’ve had is how [we] can use this disruption to reimagine a new form of journalism that really serves communities.”
Spotlight PA, a nonprofit investigative news organization based out of Harrisburg, Penn., has received a bulk of its funding from the Lenfest Institute since their inception in 2019.
“Lenfest has been instrumental to Spotlight PA,” said Deputy Director Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein.
Spotlight PA is an organization that bills itself as an independent, statewide newsroom dedicated to producing investigative journalism about the Pennsylvania government.
One of the publication’s main pillars is being able to produce impactful journalism to Pennsylvanians without a paywall–which is made possible with the help of both state and nationwide fundraising.
“It is so important for people to have access to no-cost, investigative journalism,” Zuckerman Bernstein said. “It is really a public good for those who cannot afford to pay for their journalism.”
In addition to the funding they receive from Lenfest, Spotlight PA receives some national and state funding, as well as thousands of donations from Pennsylvanians who support the publication’s work.
On the national level, organizations that support journalism—like the Pulitzer Center—have funded 17 journalists specifically in Pennsylvania for a variety of reporting projects.
Like Mooring, Zuckerman Bernstein said that local news outlets could always use more funding than what they have.
She said Spotlight PA hopes to hire a caregiving reporter and to expand their labor and environmental reporting, which are roles that can be created with more funding.
“Our goal is to make Spotlight PA a permanent fixture in the state of Pennsylvania,” Zuckerman Bernstein said.