Declining ad revenue and a tough economy led to hard times for news organizations in New Jersey. Rounds of layoffs at the Star-Ledger - which is one of the primary sources of news from New Jersey's statehouse - had led to deep cuts in coverage of important public policy issues.
But could a small organization - with a website and a staff of four - really make a difference?
Reporter John Mooney - who had spent many years covering New Jersey's statehouse as a reporter and Hans Dekker of the New Jersey Community Foundation - were willing to give it a try.
Only a week after the site launched, the Spotlight reporting team published a story about misuse of funds at a public utility company that triggered a state Attorney General investigation.
Success had its own rewards and challenges, says Dekker. "One of the challenges of funding a journalism organization is that you might end up funding coverage that makes some donors uncomfortable."