Why was PublicSource created?

PublicSource was formed in 2011 at a time when people were realizing just how troubled the journalism industry is. With the drop in advertising dollars and shrinking newspapers, in-depth and investigative journalism in Pittsburgh was shrinking, too. PublicSource was created to fill this gap. We strive to be the essential public source of information for Pittsburghers seeking to solve the necessities of their lives and improve their communities. 

Our reporting takes a public-service view and focuses on civic issues and solutions. So, we don’t cover isolated crimes, we cover crime trends and how effective and accountable the police departments are; we don’t cover daily weather, but we cover climate; we don’t cover sports, but rather focus on how schools in the region work to address inequities of access to educational and extracurricular opportunities.

Our mission has evolved over the years, but we’ve always been a nonprofit organization focused on public-service reporting and analysis.

At PublicSource, we produce independent, ambitious, high-impact local journalism by covering the most important stories in the Pittsburgh region. Without PublicSource, many Pittsburgh stories would go untold. 

What is public-service journalism?

Public-service journalism is the type of journalism that believes the mission is to serve the public with meaningful stories, not clickbait. It is inclusive journalism with a focus on holding officials accountable to the public and providing the public with ways to take action and share their stories independent of their race, class, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and abilities.

Public-service journalism is the bedrock of our democracy because it is bold; it’s not superficial and it means our reporters ask uncomfortable but always important questions. Under this mantle, PublicSource challenges the status quo and our work inspires change for the better.

How do you choose what you write about?

When we choose anything from our daily stories to our in-depth projects, we always keep our readers in mind. With the start of each story, we think about whose voices are represented in the stories and how policies we cover or  measures being taken affect the single mom in Allentown, the North Side family, the teenager in Homewood, the banker working Downtown and so forth.

We work outside of the traditional news cycle, which gives us the buffer to think critically about the stories affecting our city and region that are otherwise going overlooked. A lens we typically apply is: Could this story inspire change? Does this story invite voices of the people who often aren’t being heard?

It’s not a secret that there are a lot of challenges that we face, as Pittsburghers and residents of Southwestern Pennsylvania. From air quality to the opioid epidemic and affordable housing to racial tensions and polarization, PublicSource takes on substantive issues by putting the time in and narrowing in on the powerful narratives, often shaped by the people living them. 

It’s a daunting task that keeps us very busy, but progress in any of these areas requires an informed electorate to get engaged, giving our mission an urgency that will continue to drive us.

Who writes for PublicSource?

Of PublicSource’s 15 full-timers, 13 of us are professional journalists. And, we’re an award-winning team. In 2020, we were honored as winners and finalists for over fifteen local, regional, state and national awards. Most notably, we received the prestigious award for General Excellence in an international contest recognizing overall excellence in online journalism.

We bolster our storytelling efforts by working closely with a group of talented freelance writers, web developers and visual journalists in the Pittsburgh area. We also bring in three intern classes a year and train them in our brand of public-service journalism.

But you don’t have to be a journalist to write for PublicSource. We solicit stories from community storytellers (it’s a paid opportunity). This is a year-round, open call to anyone with a compelling story to tell. We have a pitch form on our website to begin the process, and we provide editorial support along the way. To learn more about working with PublicSource, our fee structure and processes, please visit this page.

Who funds you?

PublicSource is primarily funded through the support of Pittsburgh’s generous foundation community and individual donors. Like PublicSource, what these people and organizations share in common is the goal of making Pittsburgh a better, smarter place, and they recognize how essential quality local journalism is to this pursuit.

We are honored to count the Hillman Foundation, The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, the R.K. Mellon Foundation among our lead supporters, along with support from the Eden Hall, Jewish Healthcare, Staunton Farm and FISA foundations. Nationally, we have received support from organizations like the Facebook Journalism Project, Google News Initiative, the Wyncote Foundation, InAsMuch Foundation and the Miami Foundation and other funders via the NewsMatch program. We have also built partnerships to place reporters in our newsroom with organizations such as Open Campus and Report for America. 

In addition to this support, we have a growing community of individual members — readers like you, who similarly recognize the vital work of PublicSource and have made a commitment to the future by funding our work. As local journalists focused on Pittsburgh, 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 are supported by more than 1,000 current members, who choose to give annually or on a monthly basis. 

Finally, we work with corporate sponsors and advertisers who are interested in supporting our mission and also connecting with the PublicSource audience. These groups underwrite our operations, sponsor our events and provide access to capital for growth to better serve our mission. Reach out to our director of loyalty programs Jennie Liska at jennie@publicsource.org if your business believes in meaningful local journalism and may be interested in joining our supporters and reaching our readers. To learn more about our supporters, click here

How do you control for bias?

PublicSource adheres to the editorial standards set forth by both the Society of Professional Journalists [SPJ] and the Institute for Nonprofit News [INN]. The CliffsNotes version is we have no hidden agenda and no shareholders to satisfy. We don’t accept gifts, and when we do accept foundation money, it is with the explicit understanding that our editorial process cannot be influenced and needs to remain independent. Sometimes we agree to cover specific topic areas, like we do with the Jewish Healthcare Foundation on health issues, for example, but we never agree to tackle these issues from a specific lens other than our own, which is with the goal to explain complex issues that matter to the Pittsburgh region. For the full SPJ and INN policies, visit here and here.

What kind of events do you hold?

In past years, we brought thousands of your neighbors into the conversation at our events, with attendance ranging from a dozen to more than 600 at a time.

These events have been in large, lecture-hall formats with the likes of authors J.D. Vance, Cathy O’Neill and Jonathan Allen, as well as White House Correspondent April Ryan.

We’ve also held smaller, more intimate community events, offering a platform to the people who have shared their stories with PublicSource and with you through our first-person essays and “I Am a Black Girl and…” project.

During the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve shifted to a virtual event format. We’ve hosted virtual panels that bring the voices from our reporting directly to our readers, we hosted media literacy classes and writing sessions. You can find our virtual events publicized on our social media and events page. 

Our Citizen’s Toolkit classes have shifted to an online format and are another way we interact with our community. In area libraries and schools, our team members teach classes on fake news & information literacy, how to be an engaged citizen, and accessing public records through Right-To-Know (RTK) training. Given the lack of civics education in schools, coupled with the rise of suspicion of the media, empowering our neighbors to think critically and make informed choices, we are working to democratize the facts and to free ourselves from the agendas of gatekeepers everywhere by enabling each other to “teach a person to fish.”

Our reporters and editors frequently speak about their work and PublicSource to book clubs, citizen groups in our region, students at local universities and Osher classes at Pitt and CMU. If your organization is interested in inviting us, please get in touch with us at info@publicsource.org or email an individual directly (you can find our contact information on the staff page). 

How can I support PublicSource’s mission?

  • Support our work with a donation by becoming a PublicSource member if you are able. Good journalism is expensive to produce and we rely on supporters like you to keep going. 
  • Subscribe to our email newsletters: If you haven’t already, follow the pop-up or visit www.publicsource.org/digest to enter your email and get our stories and event announcements in your inbox.
  • Attend our events. Be it the Citizen’s Toolkit classes on detecting fake news or how to find public records or our larger scale events with authors and newsmakers, readers like you are regularly invited to engage firsthand with our guests and our team.
  • Listen to our podcast. “From the Source” launched in 2020 and covers stories of the places and people that bring Pittsburgh to life. 
  • Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Comment on and share stories that resonate with you.
  • Pitch us a story! We’re always on the lookout for story ideas, and innovative approaches are welcome. What keeps you awake at night? What kind of a community do you want to live in? Tell us.
  • If you have general feedback about our work, potential sponsorships, events or anything that we haven’t addressed here, always feel free to email any one of us. If it’s sensitive information you’d like to share, please visit our ‘Leak to us’ page for instructions on secure communication with our team.