Frequently asked questions: A primer on PublicSource

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 suffering. PublicSource was created to fill this gap. So, we don’t cover isolated shootings, we cover crime trends and how effective the police bureau is; we don’t cover weather, we cover climate; we don’t cover sports; we report on cancer-causing turf and disparate athletic opportunities between girls and boys.

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

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. 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 who we are representing and how measures being taken affect the single mom in Allentown, the family in Shadyside, 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 give voice to people who often aren't being listened to?

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, PublicSource takes on substantive issues by putting the time in and narrowing in on the powerful narratives that eases the understanding these sometimes abstract issues.

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 10 full-timers, eight of us are professional journalists. And, we’re an award-winning team. In 2017, we won five first-place and two second-place awards in regional and state competitions, and, most notably, we were named one of five finalists in an international contest recognizing overall excellence in online journalism.

We bolster our productivity by calling on talented freelancers 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. 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.

Who funds you?

PublicSource is primarily funded through the support of Pittsburgh’s esteemed foundation community. Like PublicSource, what these groups 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 Grable, Colcom, Staunton Farm and FISA foundations.

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.

With the support of our foundation community and readers alike, we are now in the process of recruiting our inaugural class of corporate sponsors. These groups underwrite our operations, sponsor our events and provide access to capital for growth to better serve our mission. Reach out to our corporate sponsorship manager Tim Randall at tim@publicsource.org if your business may be interested in supporting this mission.

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. Sometimes we agree to cover specific topic areas, like we do with the Colcom Foundation on the environment, but we never agree to tackling 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 2017, 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, giving a platform to the people who have shared their stories with PublicSource and with you through our Voices Unlocked series and the “I Am a Black Girl and…” project.

Our Citizen’s Toolkit classes are yet another way we interact with our community. In area libraries and schools, our team members teach classes on Fake News, understanding school ratings, 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.”

In 2018, we expect to continue the aforementioned and revive our “Coffee and Contemplation” morning discussions on a range of issues, bringing readers and experts together for important conversations that engage our community.

How can I support PublicSource's mission?

  • Subscribe to our weekly digest: 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.
  • Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 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 that are not on our radar, always feel free to email any one of us. If you’d like to share sensitive information, please visit our ‘Leak to us’ page for instructions on secure communication with our team.