Lenfest Lab Brings Innovation Local

Innovation is more than just a buzz word or cool experiment. It is vital for our industry to innovate, evolve and continue to match storytelling and platform for a premier user experience. As Vice President of Innovation at the News Media Alliance, I come across the best and brightest innovations of our industry. What I see in the field constantly renews my sense of optimism for the future of news. Particularly, I’d like to call attention to the Lenfest Local Lab.

This small, standalone product innovation team works within the Philadelphia Media Network, funded by the Lenfest Institute. They are a group of smart and ambitious problem solvers who want to save journalism by making “relevant local news easier for area residents to discover.”

“We don’t think that journalism and storytelling is broken, but that sometimes, the product is,” Sarah Schmalbach wrote on Medium.

This year, the Local Lab will focus on experiments geared toward reinventing the daily news experience and solutions that are applicable to the majority of journalism created by local newsrooms. The focus on local is especially refreshing — while we’ve seen great news labs like Quartz Bot Studio and Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab, local newsrooms often do not have the resources to devote to innovation.

“Local news is worth saving for many reasons. It’s the driving force behind better local government spending and it also allows people to get informed about things that help them live their lives,” Schmalbach shared. She also pointed to the fact local news is still trusted by readers, which is good news in this error of public distrust and cries of fake news.

The mission of the Lab is to be transparent and allow for replication of the experiments and products. They’re also interested in collaboration with newsrooms outside of the Philadelphia area.

The first year of the Lab will focus on products — building something valuable and specifically to increase someone’s ease of use or understanding. They’re aiming for six to eight experiments this year and hope for one or two of ideas to be integrated by local newsrooms. Up first is the development of an app that sends alerts when people pass a place mentioned in a story. They’re also exploring how to pair reminders about community meetings with news stories about topics that will be discussed there.

I will be excitedly watching to see what they produce, and the News Media Alliance will share their progress with our members.





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