A cofounder of one of the nation's most active venture capital firms has been named board chairman of Philadelphia Media Network, which operates the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.
Josh Kopelman, 45, perhaps best known as creator of Half.com, the giant used-book, movie, and music website, takes over as the company begins an ambitious effort to identify new ways of storytelling and new streams of revenue.
"Great cities need a great independent source of journalism," Kopelman said Tuesday night. "They need investigative reporting. I think the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com play a critical role in our city."
Kopelman succeeds H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, the former sole owner of PMN. Lenfest will continue to serve on PMN's board and to chair the board of managers of the Institute for Journalism in New Media, to which he donated the newspapers and website.
Kopelman is "young, he's smart, and he's dedicated to PMN and its future," Lenfest said. "Journalism is important, but how it's going to survive in the digital age takes people like Josh Kopelman to help us figure it out."
The change in the chairmanship marks the latest chapter in the innovative restructuring of PMN, Lenfest said. He set that course late last year when he donated the newspapers and website to the institute, created at his behest under the auspices of the Philadelphia Foundation.
The institute, which has its own governing board, can accept outside donations and target that money to discern innovative ways to secure the long-term future of quality journalism.
Current PMN board member Lisa Kabnick, a senior adviser for Reed Smith L.L.P., becomes vice chair. She has spent 35 years as an international commercial lawyer and adviser to professional and community boards.
Venture capital firms typically invest in projects that contain substantial risk, often new or expanding businesses.
Kopelman, who grew up on Long Island and now lives on the Main Line, cofounded First Round Capital in 2004. Since then, the firm has invested in more than 300 technology start-ups.
"I have so much respect for him," said PMN publisher Terry Egger. "I couldn't ask for a better partner."
Kopelman, who joined the PMN board in 2015, said he brings no plans to dramatically change the goals of the company. He had been impressed with the pace of change, he added.
"Gerry brought in Terry, and Terry is a very strong leader," Kopelman said. "I view my job as running an effective board, but I view it as Terry's job to run an effective paper."
In a biography written for First Round, Kopelman said he chose the company name "to make it clear that we wanted to talk to founders at the earliest possible point. We thrive on incomplete ideas."
For five years, Kopelman has placed in the top 20 on the Forbes "Midas List," which ranks the lead 100 investors in technology. This year, he ranked sixth. He also has been named among Newsweek magazine's top 10 "angel investors."
Kopelman has spent most of the last 25 years founding and funding start-up companies that use the power of the internet to disrupt older firms.
The news business has suffered serious disruptions. In November, PMN announced plans to lay off 46 journalists, the latest retrenchment in a decade of cutbacks, buyouts, layoffs, and management and ownership upheaval. The subsequent linkage of news company, media institute, and charitable foundation broke new ground in a threatening economic environment for many traditional news organizations.
In 1992, as a student at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Kopelman cofounded Infonautics Corp., taking it public on NASDAQ four years later. In 1999 he founded Half.com, which was acquired by eBay in 2000.
Kopelman stayed at eBay for three years, running the Half.com business and increasing eBay's media marketplace to almost half a billion dollars in annual gross sales.
"Anyone who pays attention to Josh Kopelman is probably used to being surprised; he is a true innovator with amazing instincts," Egger said. "His entrepreneurial and innovative spirit is precisely what we need as we chart our path forward."
Kopelman holds 13 U.S. patents for work on internet technology. He earned a bachelor of science degree cum laude in entrepreneurial management and marketing from Wharton.