By Dan Kennedy
Some very good news on the community journalism front: The family who owns the daily newspaper LNP of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is donating it to the local public broadcasting outlet. WITF will acquire LNP, Lancaster Online and several other media properties, known collectively as LNP Media. LNP reporter Chad Umble writes:
The Steinman family’s 158-year ownership of a daily newspaper in Lancaster will end in June with a gift meant to safeguard the future of its flagship publication.
Steinman Communications leadership on Tuesday announced to staff their plans to give LNP Media Group, publisher of LNP | LancasterOnline, at no cost to WITF, the Harrisburg-based public broadcasting station operator. WITF will oversee the Lancaster media company, which will be converted to a public benefit corporation and become a subsidiary of WITF.
Robby Brod of WITF covers the story as well.
Significantly, the deal will be accompanied by a major donation from the Steinman family, which will provide LNP with five years of runway to achieve long-term sustainability. Now, that’s stepping up. You may also recall that WITF was absolutely fierce in calling out elected officials in Pennsylvania who lied about the 2020 election results.
Not too many parallels come to mind. Probably the closest took place in 2022, when WBEZ acquired the Chicago Sun-Times, a tabloid that was traditionally that city’s No. 2 daily. The Sun-Times was converted to a nonprofit, whereas the LNP properties will be run as a public benefit corporation — a for-profit whose governance structure imposes certain requirements for serving the public interest. Both deals, though, show that public broadcasters can help save regional news coverage.
I’ve reported pretty extensively on yet another situation that involved not a major regional newspaper but, rather, a medium-size digital-and-broadcast operation: NJ Spotlight News, created in 2019 by the merger of NJ Spotlight and NJ PBS. The combined operation includes a website that covers politics and public policy in New Jersey as well as a half-hour television newscast. The website and the newscast both incorporate quite a bit of journalism in common. The story of the merger and its aftermath will be told in “What Works in Community News,” the book that Ellen and I are working on.
Recently my friend and mentor Thomas Patterson of the Harvard Kennedy School wrote a paper on how public radio stations could do more to help solve the local news crisis; I wrote a response. The merger taking place in Pennsylvania isn’t quite what Patterson and I have in mind, but it’s adjacent. And it’s a great example of public media filling the gap at a time when traditional for-profit newspapers are fading.