Matching grants will help ensure independent journalism in Philly

H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest is applauded during the Lenfest Institute breakfast on May 3.

Philadelphia made history as the birthplace of the United States when the Declaration of Independence was signed at Independence Hall in 1776. As a city, we've been making history ever since.

With the establishment of the Lenfest Institute, we are the first city to assure - and effectively gift - its citizens with the future of powerful public service journalism. For that, we owe a debt of gratitude to Gerry Lenfest. Gerry has long been one of the great civic leaders in Philadelphia. He and his wife, Marguerite, have generously given their attention and substantial wealth to the arts, culture, education, historic preservation, and many other deserving civic causes.

But this gift of service journalism is different. This gift is unprecedented.

In the announcement of his $40 million matching campaign, which has already raised an additional $26.5 million in funds from a broad base of donors, Gerry has established a new path toward ensuring the vitality, independence and innovation of news in Philadelphia. After all, a society is only as strong as its informed citizens. Journalism both enlightens and connects a city, and accurate, fair, and fact-based journalism is more important than ever.

The investigative journalism championed by the papers has helped expose corruption among public officials and other institutions. Intensive coverage of the grave failures at the Department of Health and Human Services became the driving impetus for massive changes to oversight within the organization that has undoubtedly helped save lives. The process for reporting violence in our city schools has been improved, thanks to detailed coverage by the Inquirer. Over the years, both papers have shined a light on a host of other issues that ultimately strengthen our society.

As a community, we are presented with the challenge, and perhaps even duty, to champion Gerry's vision. The Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com are community assets. Their donation was a gift to Philadelphia and we must take responsibility for that gift by demonstrating our own support. Funding the Lenfest Institute's endowment - no matter how large or small the contribution - will enable journalism to thrive and evolve in the face of an ever-changing media landscape.

That's why I'm proud to be one of the matching donors. My own experience running the Graham Company, an insurance and employee benefits broker that has been in business for more than 60 years, has shown the importance of constantly reimagining how we can improve our service lines to better protect and serve our customers. Now, we can foster this same type of creativity and experimentation in journalism - and not just for Philadelphia, but for the country to benefit from. Through future grants, the Lenfest Institute can advance the bold new ideas and investigative projects of reporters at home and across the globe. This landmark model establishes our city as a 21st-century leader in the field of journalism and further enriches our democracy.

It's fitting that these news organizations continue to make history, and not just chronicle it. It was Philadelphia that created America's first daily newspaper in 1784, the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser. Now, with Gerry's efforts to keep the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com "in good hands in perpetuity," he has set another first for public service journalism in the country.

Thank you, Gerry, for leading the way to support public interest journalism. Now, it is up to the rest of us to do our part to support a free and thriving press in Philadelphia.

William A. "Bill" Graham IV is chairman of the board and CEO of the Graham Company. bgraham@grahamco.com