Spotlight PA is the largest newsroom in Pennsylvania dedicated to holding the Pennsylvania state government to account. Our team of a dozen investigative reporters and editors based in the capital are working every day to keep track of taxpayer dollars and ensure the government is working for the people — and no one else. Contact our reporters using the emails below, or see how to send us tips more securely.
Focus: Governor’s office, legislature
Pennsylvania’s governor and 253-member General Assembly drive decision making in Harrisburg. Their often closed-door dealings dictate how billions in taxpayer dollars are spent each year. They also make public policy decisions on issues from energy and criminal justice to naming an official state amphibian. Caruso analyzes what gets done and why, and holds lawmakers accountable for what lingers on Harrisburg’s agenda.
A New York native, Caruso attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he learned how to report at his student newspaper, The Pitt News. After graduating, he moved to Harrisburg in March 2018, where he has covered state government and politics, in particular the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
Focus: Campaign finance, lobbying, departments of Revenue, State, General Services
Behind the legislation that gets considered in the Pennsylvania Capitol, there are special interests trying to influence the process. Couloumbis tracks the lobbyists with access to top elected officials and the money that sometimes shapes which policies are prioritized in state government. Her stories have illustrated the nexus between politics and policy and traced how Pennsylvania’s weak campaign finance laws have allowed elected officials to shirk transparency.
Before joining Spotlight PA, Couloumbis worked at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where she wrote about local and state governments, politics, courts, and crime in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Focus: Governor’s office, legislature
Huangpu follows how and why the state government works the way it does, paying special attention to how the structure of our government expands or excludes who can participate in democracy. Huangpu also tracks major legislation and the impact that it has on communities across the state.
A graduate of the Columbia Journalism School’s data journalism program, Huangpu got her start reporting on police accountability and social services for survivors of domestic violence in New York City. She previously worked at ABC’s World News Tonight and MSNBC.
Focus: Department of Community and Economic Development, Independent Fiscal Office, Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency
Keith follows the money to understand how your tax dollars are being spent. She reports on the systems and policies that drive — or delay — economic development and holds officials accountable for financial decisions that affect Pennsylvanians.
Before joining Spotlight PA, Keith covered local and state government for a small nonprofit newsroom in Buffalo, NY. She is originally from London.
Focus: Departments of Drug and Alcohol Programs, Human Services; Pennsylvania Governor’s Commission on Children and Families, addiction treatment, the opioid epidemic, medical cannabis, and child care
Mahon reports on addiction treatment and the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania, which has one of the highest fatal drug overdose rates in the country. He also covers social service programs and reports on what happens when the government fails the people it’s supposed to help: children who need care, families in poverty, and those with disabilities.
A native of Delaware County, Mahon worked in newsrooms across Pennsylvania before joining Spotlight PA. His reporting has earned national recognition, including a 2018 finalist slot for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists and a 2021 investigative award from the Institute for Nonprofit News.
Focus: Penn State University
Massey investigates how Penn State University operates, including its influence in the region and state. The university receives more than $300 million in funding from the state but evades most transparency measures under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law. Massey scrutinizes the main University Park campus as well as the university’s 19 additional branch campuses.
A native of rural Wisconsin, Massey previously covered faith and religion for the Chattanooga Times Free Press in Southeast Tennessee.
Focus: Governor’s office, legislature, elections
Meyer covers government and elections, with a focus on the money and powerful interests that can shape policy decisions, and the ways those decisions affect Pennsylvanians. She also plans coverage and edits Spotlight’s government team.
Previously, Meyer was political reporter for WHYY Public Radio in Philadelphia, and covered state politics and government for WITF Public Radio in Harrisburg. She lives in South Philly.
Focus: Pennsylvania State Police, Department of Corrections, courts, judicial system
The institutions that comprise Pennsylvania’s justice system hold extraordinary power over the lives of residents. Ohl holds those institutions accountable and examines what it means to pursue justice in Pennsylvania, even when the systems work as intended.
Ohl previously covered the state Capitol for Spotlight PA. She spent four years covering Annapolis for the Capital Gazette, where she earned a Pulitzer Prize special citation with her newsroom for covering the mass shooting of her own colleagues.
Focus: Agriculture, environment, community development, how state agencies and policies affect rural communities
Marley Parish is the rural affairs reporter of Spotlight PA’s State College regional bureau.
Before joining Spotlight PA, she covered the state Senate for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, reporting on education, health, and elections. Previously, Marley was a community reporter for the Centre Daily Times, covering education, local government, and community issues.
She has received statewide recognition for her coverage of the 2020 post-election review conducted by Senate Republicans and how the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade could affect statewide access to reproductive care.
Focus: Writer / ReporterTanisha Thomas is a newsletter writer/reporter for Spotlight PA. She previously worked as a digital editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She also worked as a reporter and social media producer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and interned in various roles for her hometown paper The Columbus Dispatch in Columbus, Ohio. In her free time, Tanisha enjoys playing trivia, checking out shows/concerts, attending sporting events, finding new hobbies to try or talking about the latest pop culture news.
Focus: Local government accountability
Central and northern Pennsylvania is home to vast natural beauty, historic towns with changing economies, and a diverse mix of social-political values. Xian reports on how local governments are run and how public dollars are spent, with a focus on how public and private forces shape ordinary life in this region.
Before joining Spotlight PA, Xian covered local government and rural issues for the region’s NPR affiliate, WPSU. Originally from southern China, she has called State College home since 2013.
- Christopher Baxter is the CEO and founding editor in chief of Spotlight PA, and oversees all aspects of the organization. His work as an investigative reporter and editor has regularly prompted meaningful change in the form of new laws and regulations, criminal investigations, resignations, legislative hearings, and more. Most recently, he was the editor for data and investigations at NJ Advance Media (NJ.com & The Star-Ledger), where he led the newsroom’s highest-level investigative projects with a digital-first approach and an emphasis on journalism that gets results. Previously, he was the Mike Wallace Fellow in Investigative Reporting with the Knight-Wallace Fellowships at the University of Michigan and, before that, worked for four years as a statehouse investigative reporter in The Star-Ledger’s Trenton Bureau. He began his career as a local reporter for The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa. His work has garnered numerous state and national awards, including the 2014 Livingston Award in Local Reporting, the 2018 Investigative Reporters & Editors Freedom of Information Award, as well as the 2019 Knight Award for Public Service and the 2019 Investigative Data Journalism Award from the Online News Association.
As part of the effort to combat “news desert” conditions in her hometown, Heather Adams is collaborating with community residents, leaders, donors, funders, media partners, and businesses to help guide the creation of a potential new Spotlight PA bureau in Berks County. The year-long project includes conducting a needs assessment and listening sessions to gain a better understanding of information gaps and what kind of news coverage community members want, as well as evaluating and developing product and distribution pathways.
Adams has served as Executive Director & Managing Editor of Berks Community Television (BCTV) for 8 years, driving transformation of the organization in its mission to empower people and engage community through media. She has held leadership roles in sales and marketing throughout her career and is an active volunteer, participating with committees, projects, events, and on boards of organizations in Reading and Berks. Adams holds a BA in Speech Communication from York College of PA, and a certification in Nonprofit Management from La Salle University.
- Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein joined Spotlight PA in 2019, and has led myriad initiatives since the newsroom’s launch, from effectively building local and national support for Spotlight PA’s public-service journalism, to expanding the newsroom’s partnerships and creating its civic events program. She currently leads Spotlight PA’s fundraising team. Joanna received her B.A. from Columbia University and also has a master’s degree from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, where she was a Stabile Investigative Fellow. She worked as a foreign correspondent in Mexico City for Reuters and she was part of a team at the Miami Herald chosen as a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Local Reporting. She has also held fundraising and communications roles at nonprofit organizations in Mexico City, New York, and Chicago.
- Christina Bruno leads the strategy to grow Spotlight PA’s digital audience and engagement. Prior to joining the team she was an independent marketing consultant for startups and small businesses and led marketing and fundraising teams for Empatico - an initiative of The KIND Foundation, Educators for Excellence - NY, and Teach For America - Las Vegas Valley. She is a graduate of Yale School of Management and Pomona College, and she is originally from Allentown, PA. She currently lives in Red Bank, NJ where she spends time with her family, attempts to garden, and serves on the local school board.
- Skyler Cruz is Spotlight PA’s first Operations Manager, a role made possible by the American Journalism Project. She manages administrative projects and builds organizational capacity, in addition to strengthening partner relationships. Skyler returns to the media industry after years as an Admissions Officer in graduate management education with the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University. A native Floridian, Skyler holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Philosophy from Stetson University. While at Stetson, she served as Editor-In-Chief of The Reporter, the campus news magazine.
- Matt Dempsey is the senior editor for investigations at Spotlight PA. He previously led teams at USAFacts and the Houston Chronicle. He served on the board of directors for Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. from 2018 to 2020. Past investigative projects involved wildfires, state pensions, and the chemical industry. His passion for public records frequently leads to data disclosures from all levels of government. His “Chemical Breakdown” series for the Houston Chronicle won the 2016 IRE Innovation award and the National Press Foundation’s “Feddie” award. His work was a key part of the Houston Chronicle’s Pulitzer Prize finalist entry for Breaking News.
- Colin Deppen is a newsletter editor/reporter with Spotlight PA. He crafts and grows the site’s daily and weekly newsletters, while contributing to the organization’s mission of producing journalism that serves readers and holds powerful people to account. He came to Spotlight PA from The Incline, a digital news outlet in Pittsburgh, where he served as director and author of a daily newsletter hyper-focused on the city and region. Colin has worked at newspapers and outlets across Pennsylvania during his 10-year career — from the Northern Tier to the south. This includes PennLive/The Patriot-News, where he won statewide awards for written features, personality profiles, and political coverage. He is a native of New York City with deep family ties in Pennsylvania and has been a longtime resident of the commonwealth. He still refuses to try scrapple.
With a passion for engagement and commitment to serving communities, Elizabeth Estrada connects voters with the information they need in order to confidently participate in our democracy. She helps shape the growth of Spotlight PA’s service journalism around voting and elections, and general issues as they relate to state government.
Previously, Elizabeth worked at WHYY’s PlanPhilly as an engagement editor, where she reported positive stories through her original Feel Good Friday series, launched the station’s first-ever bilingual series, and managed an opinion and essay section.
Originally from Queens, New York, she now lives in South Philadelphia with her husband and dog. In her free time, she enjoys visiting breweries, exploring the city, and sewing her own clothes.
- Sarah Anne Hughes is a deputy editor for Spotlight PA, helping oversee day-to-day news operations. She is a native Pennsylvanian who has helped lead newsrooms in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. She was previously associate editor of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star and a Report for America fellow with Billy Penn and The Incline covering the state legislature. Before returning to her home state, Sarah was managing editor of Washington City Paper, editor of DCist, and a reporter for The Washington Post. She is a 2019 National Fellow with the Center for Health Journalism, focusing on the decline of cash welfare for families in poverty.
- Carl Johnson is the Technology Director for Spotlight PA. Prior to joining the Spotlight PA team, Carl worked as a Newsroom Product Engineer at The Baltimore Sun for Tribune Publishing, a Tech Lead for PBS, a web developer for The Atlantic, and the webmaster for his high school underground lit mag. Carl has a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Hawaii and is interested in looking at online publishing and full stack development from a critical perspective. Before becoming a software engineer, he worked as an educator for 9 years, and he now teaches interactive design for journalists at the University of Maryland. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and children.
- Stephen Kearse is the assistant editor of Spotlight PA. He previously worked as the copy editor of Stateline, and has contributed arts criticism and reporting to The Nation, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Pitchfork, among other outlets.
- Michelle Mertz joined the team of Spotlight PA in June 2022 as the organization’s first Director of Major Gifts. She brings over 25 years of experience as a non-profit development leader. Michelle previously served in advancement roles at WITF Inc., Bucknell University, Easter Seals, and Central Penn College. She also worked in marketing for Sunbury Broadcasting Corp. for 5 years.
- Sean O’Riordan oversees Spotlight PA’s membership program, builds relationships with supporters, and ensures the best experience for members. Previously, as a database manager for the PA SPCA, Sean revamped their donor management system resulting in significant improvements. Beyond work, Sean enjoy binge-watching TV, running Spartan races, trying new restaurants, and cheering on Philly sports teams. Sean is dedicated to making a difference in the world and proud to contribute to Spotlight PA’s mission of improving independent journalism in PA.
- Yaasmeen Piper is a recent graduate of East Stroudsburg University with a degree in English and concentration in digital and professional media writing. She served as Editor-in-Chief of the Stroud Courier, East Stroudsburg University’s student newspaper for two years. Over the past four years, she has worked as an intern and freelance writer with a focus in arts, culture, news, and social issues. Her work is featured in TheBurg Magazine, Central Penn Business Journal, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and more. She won first place in the 2020 Professional Keystone Media Awards in the DV diversity category.
- Sarah Rafacz is the editor of Spotlight PA’s State College bureau. Before joining Spotlight PA to help launch its first regional bureau, she was the editor of State College Magazine. Prior to that, Rafacz was a reporter at the Centre Daily Times, covering Penn State, local government and development. Rafacz, a native of Centre County, has bachelor’s degrees in journalism and English from Penn State.
- Jeff Rummel works as a News Developer for Spotlight PA. He joined Spotlight PA after a decade of building websites and digital tools. Jeff led teams, created workflows, and produced award-winning sites for organizations like The Teamsters and Ocean Conservancy. Before building websites, Jeff did everything from refinishing antique furniture to cooking in the World’s smallest kitchen. He lives with his wife and child in Lancaster, PA.