Gannett, nation’s largest newspaper company, invests in Billy Penn parent

USA Today’s publisher will fuel expansion in Philadelphia and new markets.

Jayna Wallace / BillyPenn

The nation’s largest newspaper company is placing a bet on Billy Penn.

Gannett Corporation, the publisher of USA Today and more than 90 daily metro newspapers like the Indianapolis Star and the Arizona Republic, is now a minority owner of Spirited Media, Billy Penn’s parent company. The investment, effective immediately, will allow Billy Penn to add several positions in editorial, design, development and events and sales. In addition, the investment calls for Spirited Media to launch new brands in other local markets.

”Gannett is excited about its partnership with Spirited Media, “ said Bob Dickey, CEO of Gannett, in a press release. “The Spirited Media team has a proven track record of producing high-quality journalism and delivering engaging experiences for local markets.  We look forward to working alongside Spirited Media as it embarks on its next phase of growth.”

“Gannett is the perfect partner for Spirited Media as we look to expand in Philadelphia and beyond,” said Jim Brady, Founder and CEO of Spirited Media. “As we look to create new economic and journalistic models for local media, I can’t think of any better partner than Gannett as they share our passion for journalism and commitment to innovation.“

The locations of other cities in which Billy Penn-like sites will launch has yet to be determined. But the plan is for new brands that feature the same approach — a blending of original and curated content, a heavy social media presence, an active voice and a focus on events as its primary business model.

“I cannot tell you how excited I am to bring the approach that has worked so well in Philadelphia into new markets,” Brady said. “The enthusiasm that young news consumers in Philly have shown for Billy Penn has been inspiring; I can’t wait to bring that enthusiasm into new cities.”

Since launch in October 2014, Billy Penn has named nearly 200 people to our “Who’s Next” lists in fields as varied as politics, the arts, food, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and medicine). During those 17 months, Billy Penn was named Philadelphia’s Startup of the Year at the 2015 Philadelphia Geek Awards, was a finalist for a prestigious Online Journalism Award for our coverage of the Amtrak 188 disaster, was awarded a $106,000 grant by the Knight Foundation to produce a guide to mobile journalism, became the first digital-native partner of the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact to produce PolitiFact Pennsylvania and became the only local independent news site invited to participate in Facebook’s Instant Articles program before its public launch.

Advertisers and sponsors who’ve reached their audience through Billy Penn include PECO, Beneficial Bank, Comcast, the Philadelphia Foundation, Yards Brewing Co., Visit Philly, SugarHouse Casino and the Philadelphia Eagles, among many others.

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Chris Krewson is the executive director of LION Publishers, a national nonprofit association that serves local journalism entrepreneurs build sustainable news organizations, and the founding editor of Billy Penn. He lives in Havertown.