I wrote in January about the historical importance of Gerry Lenfest’s gift of the Philadelphia Media Network to a new, nonprofit institute. The Philadelphia Media Network, and its parent Institute for Journalism in New Media own the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.
Lenfest is approaching 90, and to his credit continues to grace Philadelphia with an uncommon vision. The latest manifestation of Lenfest’s vision is the news that he has retired as board chairman and named Josh Koppelman, Philadelphia’s most prominent venture capitalist, as his successor. Koppelman shares his perspective:
The switch to a nonprofit has the potential to be transformational to the paper. When you see someone invest 80-some-odd million dollars in a newspaper and turn around and donate it to a nonprofit… What Gerry’s done was an amazingly generous act that enables people like myself to get involved, where I probably wouldn’t have gotten involved at this level if it was a for-profit company. It enables people who care enough to donate to a locally operated newsroom like the Inquirer to focus time, attention and resources there as part of sort of giving back to the community.
If you look at the turmoil that the papers have gone through over the last 8-10 years… and the changes at the top, one of the gifts Gerry made … was the ability to think longer-term. To not have to worry about what happens when an owner loses interest or passes away or any of that stuff. It enables the organization, for the first time in a decade, to maybe think longer-term and not have to deal with the whipsaw of constant change.
The ability to not have to worry about who your next donor is going to be over the next 18 months, to not have to focus on short-term quarterly numbers to justify something for bankers or lenders… gives you actually the comfort and flexibility to experiment, to think longer-term…
I’m not an orchestra guy or an opera guy or an Art Museum guy. Those haven’t been areas where I’ve been able to or inclined to focus my attention. But this is a company that serves a vital civic purpose and also is under threat like all publications, newspapers, from massive disruption. And that is something where I might be able to be a little bit helpful. This might be an area where I can give back to the city. …
I can see Koppelman chairing the board for many, many years to come.