H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest has held discussions to create a nonprofit institution that would align The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com with Temple University, Billy Penn has learned.
Lenfest, alongside now-deceased Lewis Katz, outbid South Jersey political powerhouse George Norcross in May of 2014 for control of the region’s largest newspapers. He gained sole control upon Katz’s untimely death in a private plane crash days after that auction. Since then, the 85-year-old former cable magnate-turned-philanthropist has been working on a way to ensure that the newspapers continue to be operated locally after his death.
“As Mr. Lenfest has stated publicly, he wants to leave the company in good hands. He continues to explore all sorts of options to that end,” said Philadelphia Media Network spokeswoman Amy Buckman. “Nothing is imminent.”
Temple University had no comment; insiders at the Philadelphia Media Network and the University insist that no decision has been made, as well. Word of the possible deal has begun to filter out through the Philadelphia academic community.
But Lenfest, who is on the Board of Trustees at Temple University and has donated to the school, has not been shy about his belief in nonprofit ownership of newspapers, as this question and answer from the spring 2014 edition of Philanthropy magazine illustrates:
Philanthropy: Do you think newspapers could transition to nonprofit models eventually? Should they?
Lenfest: I think eventually it would be wonderful if nonprofits would own newspapers. And they’re allowed to do that in the U.S. code now, to take in that kind of revenue. Eventually I foresee foundations taking ownership of newspapers. Newspapers don’t have to be limited to the paper. In the digital age, it doesn’t make any difference in what form the journalism takes place, but the journalism is the key to it—the coverage, in a responsible way, of local news. And investigative reporting.
It also follows a pattern of giving; according to the Associated Press, Lenfest has given away some $1.1 billion of his estate, including major gifts to his alma maters, Columbia and Washington and Lee universities; in July, the Lenfest Foundation announced a $400,000 gift to the Philadelphia School District.
If Lenfest is able to conclude a deal, it would not be the first time a for-profit newspaper has been affiliated with a non-profit. The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism training institution, owns the Tampa Bay Times. The Deseret News is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, another not-for-profit entity.