PublicSource journalism informs, influences and creates change

PublicSource’s nonpartisan commitment to public-service journalism puts us in the unique position to create impact in the city and the region of Southwestern Pennsylvania that we call home.

In 2017, we were named one of five finalists in an international contest recognizing overall excellence in online journalism and won several awards in regional and state competitions.

While we receive ample recognition from our journalistic peers, the real impact can’t be measured by accolades, but by making changes in the communities we love. Here is a sampling of the most tangible impact that has resulted from our stories:

  • 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 said it would review contract policies and a past investigation, and the City Controller launched an investigation.
  • The Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania and ACHIEVA phased out their sheltered workshops in response to outcry by disability advocates after a 2015 PublicSource investigation into subminimum wages paid to people with disabilities.
  • PublicSource intern Maia Ervin wrote a first-person essay for PublicSource about a culture of racism on her college campus. She was later invited to work within her college administration to advise on diversity/inclusion language and initiatives.
  • Carlow University offered Monet Spencer a scholarship and housing after our story on her life as a homeless student was published.
  • A creative writing class for undergraduate students at Chatham was assigned Voices Unlocked — our series profiling people whose lives have been affected by the penal system — as a part of their curriculum.
  • We led reporting on the dangers of partial lead line replacement prior to the Pittsburgh water authority stopping them; 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.
  • Fenceline 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 the bureau’s patrolling of those areas to better address the problems.

Add to this the power of transparency in exposing Pittsburgh and Allegheny County salaries as well as conducting Facebook Live interviews with mayoral candidates and representatives in the education, health and environment sectors. We also pursue in-depth projects on issues that haven’t been covered substantively in our region; the premiere projects of 2017 were the “I am a black girl and…” series, “Small Town, Pennsylvania” and “Charter Effect.”

More than an aspirational motto, “telling stories for a better Pittsburgh” orients us toward a better tomorrow. With three intern classes a year, by semester, not only do we train the rising generation of journalists in our unique brand of public-service journalism — seeding the newsrooms of the future — but we afford our interns the chance to do real reporting that has impact. The time our interns commit to PublicSource translates in experience and credibility above and beyond what their peers can glean from school press alone.

Beyond our internal work, we believe in engaging our audience in our brand of storytelling. This is reflected by our events. In 2017, we brought thousands of readers together through a range of large lecture-style events down through our more intimate “Citizen’s Toolkit” classes. In the classes, we empower readers to be investigators and compelling storytellers by training them in critical thinking via our “fake news” detection classes; how to compel transparency of public data via our public records classes; how to make sense of school ratings; or how to craft the visual component of your story through our design class.

Together, with the community we are building around the PublicSource platform, we will ensure that the story of what Pittsburgh becomes never flinches from including the voices of the voiceless, but instead truly embraces the ALL in the motto, “If it’s not for all, it’s not for us.”