Steinman family gives Lancaster news operation to WITF, setting up new era of coverage and community service in central Pa.
Two of central Pennsylvania’s largest media organizations are joining forces as WITF and LancasterOnline/LNP create a new model for local news and engagement.
The Steinman family, which has helmed the Lancaster newspaper for nearly 158 years, is gifting nearly its entire operation to WITF, creating a single, sustainable organization designed to fill a growing news gap in the region.
The donation has been given the green light by both the boards of directors for WITF and Steinman Communications, LNP’s parent company. The transfer is expected to take place in June, after which LNP will become a subsidiary of WITF.
WITF is also establishing The Steinman Institute for Civic Engagement, made possible with support from The Steinman Foundation. The Institute will support local journalism and community-focused education initiatives and provide training opportunities for journalists.
Shane Zimmerman, president of the Steinman Foundation, says the goal is to have young journalists work closely with their local communities.
“Knowing that the combined organization needs to adapt and change to be prepared for future success, we’ve got to take advantage of our local roots and engage the community,” Zimmerman said. “And have them realize that the community is better off with us than without us, and demonstrate the value that local journalism brings to our community in a way to make it a better place.”
In preparation for the transfer, Steinman Communications is converting LNP to a Pennsylvania Benefit Corporation, making it a for-profit entity with a mandate to create public benefits in addition to pursuing its commercial objectives.
“LNP has a long history of local journalism in Lancaster County,” said WITF’s president and CEO Ron Hetrick. “WITF has a long history of local journalism and education throughout central Pennsylvania in the 19 counties that we serve. So, we’re coming together to explore how we can be better together around local news and information – and also importantly in terms of community engagement and how we can better connect and reflect the communities that we serve.”
The new combined organization will include:
- Lancaster County’s daily newspaper, LNP.
- LancasterOnline, which is LNP’s news website.
- Two weekly newspapers – Lititz Record-Express and The Ephrata Review.
- The Caucus, a publication that focuses on Pennsylvania state government accountability journalism.
- A public radio station with regional news and NPR programming.
- A public television station with locally produced and PBS programming.
- The Morning Agenda daily news podcast.
- The Spark radio program.
LNP Media Group will retain its printing press operation as well as Lancaster Farming, a weekly agriculture newspaper that reaches all 50 states.
Hetrick, who remains WITF president and CEO, said although this particular model is untested, partnerships between public media and local news organizations are “nothing new.”
“We believe that by learning from each other, not just what we do here locally in Central Pennsylvania, but also sharing best practices, successes and failures with our partners who are doing this, that we can learn together and hopefully find some way that this model can be refined but also replicated for the good of communities across the country,” Hetrick said.
Robert Krasne, co-chair of the Steinman Foundation, will be chair of the new Steinman Institute for Civic Engagement.
He said partnering with the public media organization will strengthen central Pennsylvania.
“More than 70% of the counties in the United States do not have a daily local newspaper. So the business model for community newspapers that are family-owned is really challenged,” Krasne said. “[WITF has] deep roots in the community, and like us, they like to hold people in power accountable.”
Newspaper circulation in Pennsylvania has declined by about 40% since 2004, according to the University of North Carolina.
STEINMAN HERITAGE OF NEWSPAPERING
For nearly 158 years, four generations of Steinmans have owned and operated the newspaper that took the name LNP in 2014.
Before that, the company printed three separate titles – Intelligencer Journal, Lancaster New Era, and Sunday News.
The family’s newspaper heritage began in 1836 when Andrew Jackson Steinman became editor and publisher of the Intelligencer Journal, which had been in business since George Washington was president.
His sons took over the business and added the other titles to the fold. They also owned radio and television stations, including WGAL, for a time.
As other descendants took charge, the family poured much of its wealth back into the community, becoming known as supporters of the arts and of communities throughout the county.
Today, The Steinman Foundation is the largest private philanthropic organization in Lancaster County.
As many other news organizations in the region were bought by chains, the Steinmans increased their investment in local news operations, keeping the printed product larger than most any other paper in a community its size and launching the separate investigative publication, The Caucus.
WITF YOUNG BY COMPARISON
WITF has been part of central Pennsylvania’s media landscape for over 50 years. Founded in 1964 in Hershey as the first public media outlet in the region, WITF-TV began by offering educational television programming for children, but has expanded to include cultural programming, public affairs coverage, and local news.
WITF-FM launched in 1971 and moved to Harrisburg 10 years later. The station licenses NPR radio programming, and produces reporting on statewide topics – as well as joining several collaborations, including StateImpact PA.
In recent years, WITF has earned accolades for its programming and public service. WITF becomes the latest public media station to partner with local print media. In 2022, Chicago Public Media, which owns Chicago’s NPR station WBEZ, acquired The Chicago Sun-Times. KERA in Texas acquired the Denton Record-Chronicle.