The nonprofit news organization PlanPhilly, which covers design, planning and development in Philadelphia, has moved from the University of Pennsylvania to become a news project of pubcaster WHYY.
PlanPhilly joined WHYY’s NewsWorks in February after spending its first nine years at PennPraxis, part of the research and practice section at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. No money changed hands as part of the move.
The site covers beats including the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, the city’s zoning code and preservation and transportation issues.
Matthew Golas, managing editor of PlanPhilly and a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, said the move to WHYY came after a couple of years of trying to find a formula for sustainability. The newsroom received institutional support from the university but was primarily supported by the William Penn Foundation and the Wyncote Foundation, which also provides support to Current.
“We put together an 18-month study of how to generate revenue, from web redesign to membership models and live events,” he said. “Basically, you name it, we looked at it.”
PlanPhilly’s integration into the university’s organizational structure posed a problem, Golas said. It was not free-standing but contained within PennPraxis, itself a registered nonprofit. “It was an impossible situation,” he said.
Golas found his solution when he started talking with a former Inquirer colleague, Chris Satullo, now WHYY’s vice president of news. After six months of talks, a plan emerged to house PlanPhilly as a project of WHYY’s NewsWorks, the online home for WHYY’s news content.
PlanPhilly is recognized as the authority for coverage of design, planning and zoning issues, Satullo said, and at times has been the only media outlet covering those issues in Philadelphia.
“If you look at journalism as a public service, PlanPhilly is a great example of that,” Satullo said. “It’s a big city with a lot going on. In some cases, PlanPhilly has been the only thing standing between having people wake up and know what all the cranes and work going on is for, and having no idea.”
With the move, PlanPhilly has kept its own website and staff and now has greater flexibility to pursue fundraising under the umbrella of WHYY. From the beginning, WHYY aimed to preserve PlanPhilly’s independence as a brand, Satullo said.
“One thing that is important is that PlanPhilly has a small but very loyal following,” Satullo said. “We don’t want to lose that. So PlanPhilly is a project of WHYY and will continue to have its own identity within the stable of what we do.”
The move gives PlanPhilly’s six reporters access to WHYY’s newsroom and to media they’ve had little experience with, especially radio.
“We’ve never been able to do real multimedia before, like podcasts and radio reporting,” Golas said. “That’s a huge advantage to the move.”
WHYY will start by producing two-way interviews with PlanPhilly reporters, Satullo said, and then training the reporters to file radio stories and expand WHYY’s on-air coverage. The station will also work to expand PlanPhilly’s coverage area, allowing it to contribute to Keystone Crossroads, the CPB-backed Local Journalism Center that includes WHYY.
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