Gerry Lenfest continues to amaze, today with word of his gift of the Philadelphia Media Network to a nonprofit institute:

The owner of The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com has donated the news organizations to a newly created media institute, the core of a complicated transaction designed to ensure that quality journalism endures in Philadelphia for generations. …

Foundations, corporations, and other benefactors can give money to the institute to be used for specific reporting efforts and journalism projects and undertakings.

For instance, a donor could give money to the institute to endow an investigative-reporting team or support coverage of the city schools, the same way givers now endow professors’ chairs at universities and musicians’ seats in orchestras. …
The institute owns the newspapers and website, but has no governance power over them. It will not transfer funds for PMN’s general operating expenses or to cover deficits. Grants to PMN must be specified in an agreement that sets out the journalistic use of the funds, and imposes a compliance requirement on the news company.

The Lenfest gift agreement stipulates: “The editorial function and news coverage of PMN shall at all times remain independent of the institute, and the institute shall not attempt to influence or interfere with the editorial policies or decisions of PMN.”

I’ve been watching the mess that is the Philadelphia newspaper scene for more than ten years. Owners and editors have changed like the weather, each bringing their own fleeting vision while the legacy unions keep whatever they can.

Visionless and adrift, in other words. Lenfest’s gift demonstrates vision, and it’s incredibly exciting to see that if this experiment works for the Philadelphia Media Network, it’s also designed to help journalistic peers.

This is a chance for Philadelphia to lead. Incredibly exciting.