Making cities better with local nonprofit journalism

journalism / Article

December 12, 2017 by Halle Stockton

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#PublicStreetsPGH is a social media project that sends PublicSource reporters and interns out into local neighborhoods to gather stories from ordinary Pittsburghers with extraordinary stories. All photos courtesy of PublicSource.

Halle Stockton is managing editor at PublicSource. PublicSource is currently one of more than 100 organizations participating in News Match, a national matching gifts campaign to encourage grassroots support for nonprofit news organizations.

Public service journalism tells readers meaningful stories about themselves and the places they live. We see it as journalism that is at once inclusive of what makes our place unique, and proactive – able to hold officials accountable to the public and provide citizens with ways to take action.

Our place is the city of Pittsburgh, celebrated for its fires of industry and now transformed into a hub of growth, science and innovation. Here, as in cities all across the U.S., people deserve journalism as authentic and innovative as the place they call home. In a time when the very notion of truth is under assault, the city of the future requires an informed electorate. Local nonprofit journalism provides just that.

Our reporters ask uncomfortable but always important questions. Under this mantle, PublicSource boldy challenges the status quo on topics like public safety, health, education and social justice, and our work inspires change for the better. That is the bedrock of democracy.

Our mission is further secured by rigorous fact-checking and adherence to editorial independence. We want you to know how we work and what we value, because as local journalists, the trust of our audience is everything. It is essential to creating a professionally sound and financially sustainable news organization. There is not a more clear cut expression of that trust than a community member giving money to support our cause, to tell the stories that make a better Pittsburgh.

We depend on that reader support to create impact.

In 2017, our eight-person editorial team, with help from freelancers, published nearly 200 enterprising stories. We have brought thousands of our neighbors into the conversation at our events, with attendance ranging from a dozen to more than 600 at a time. While we receive ample recognition, real impact can’t be measured by accolades, but by making changes Pittsburghers want to see:

  • Chatham University changed its honor code for the first time in nearly a decade to remove a policy that treated self-harm as a disciplinary matter. The change came at the recommendation of a task force the university formed following our story of students penalized for being in crisis.
  • Two Pittsburgh city leaders launched investigations following our stories about a no-bid deal for body cameras that found a police commander perhaps a little too cozy with the vendor. Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration is reviewing contract policies and a past investigation, and the city controller launched an investigation.
  • We led reporting on the dangers of partial lead line replacement prior to the Pittsburgh water authority stopping it; the county controller cited our analysis of blood lead data in children when calling out the health department for its response to the lead crisis.
  • Fence line monitoring is being installed at the Shell ethane cracker plant in Beaver County. Area residents advocated for this measure to be taken, their efforts empowered by a PublicSource article that gave them the playbook to ask the right questions.
  • After our reporter pored over gun violence data and identified hotspots in Garfield, he raised concerns with a police commander about it. The commander was previously unaware of this trend and changed patrolling of those areas to better address the problems.

From all of our accomplishments and their outcomes, you get a sense of the momentum we have built this past year, and it is momentum that our readers’ support keeps alive.

This movement is taking off in many local, nonprofit newsrooms in many cities, big and small. For our part, together with our readers and neighbors, we will ensure that the story of what Pittsburgh becomes truly embraces the ALL in the motto, “If it’s not for all, it’s not for us.”

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