Daily Pennsylvanian ‘Revamped, Revitalized, Re-energized,’ Launches $100,000 Innovation Fund

The Daily Pennsylvanian is “revamped, revitalized [and] re-energized.” Boom. Read those R-words out loud a few times rapid-fire and tell me you don’t feel at least a smidgen of curiosity and excitement.

Those are the feelings the DP is hoping to instill in readers at the University of Pennsylvania. In a letter from the editor yesterday, the kick-butt A-list Ivy League newspaper introduced a bevy of transformations, new initiatives and a simple three-word rebranding: “the new DP.”

The paper’s affiliated websites and print edition are sporting new looks and much more engaged integration. And the staff is also leaving up to $100,000 on the table — for any certified Quaker passionate enough to come up with something fresh.

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Executive editor extraordinaire Taylor Culliver: “I’m delighted to announce that the DP has pledged to spend up to $100,000 in the next two years on new, innovative projects that will create new revenue streams, enhance the experience of our student staff and create valuable, sustainable products for the benefit of the Penn community. I am particularly excited by this initiative because it truly begins and ends with the ideas of our readers.”

What Culliver means with the latter point: All Penn students — regardless of their DP ties — are eligible to pitch an idea. (My two cents: Have them do it Shark Tank-style with DP general manager Eric Jacobs playing the part of Kevin O’Leary AKA “Mr. Wonderful” or Mark Cuban — his call.)

As Jacobs explained to me about the fund:

The Innovation Fund is meant to spur innovation in any form. It is specifically not targeted at just web or mobile or apps. A great specialty print special section which serves a need in our community and/or which makes us money is just as valuable to us as a new online gizmo. We’re looking for ideas which will help us build audience engagement and ideas which make us money. Part of the idea of creating a fund with a big round dollar amount is to help us develop a culture of innovation at The Daily Pennsylvanian — hopefully with both our existing staff as well as with students on campus who might have an interesting idea for a project who might not have thought of the old-school college newspaper as a home for their project. What kinds of projects? Hard to say. Maybe some jobs-to-be-done websites (dining, housing). Maybe some events (culinary? fashion?), produced by us or in conjunction with other groups. Maybe we’ll buy a cupcake truck and use the proceeds to run the newspaper!

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I’ll be frank: 1) I’m now craving cupcakes. 2) I want to enroll at Penn so I can submit a pitch. 3) I love every iota of this idea.

I love that the amount is high enough to really let dreams turn to reality and bring numerous cool projects to life. I love the firm two-year commitment, underscoring the paper’s belief in the need for continued innovative awesomeness. I love the standalone website set up to promote and explain the fund, serving as interactive proof to potential collaborators about the staff’s desire for it to succeed.

1I love the all-in model, engaging members of Penn’s genius student body who otherwise may not mix with the DP crowd. And I love the openness, the willingness to accept ideas that may veer from what we’ve long associated with student media — from special sites to cupcake delights.

Two words are splayed in bold and all caps near the top of the Innovation Fund site: “BIG THINKING AND RISK TAKING.”

Might it be a mantra for college media to follow this academic year — and many years to come? I hope so.

By the way, the paper is not saying sayonara to ink stains. Once more, Culliver: “This is by no means a retreat from print. … The Penn community has proven that it is still engaged with our print product, and I believe that the print experience brings something to the table that the digital experience never will. We will continue striving toward an energetic and dependable print experience for all of our readers.” 

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