Help raise $125,000 in support of Spotlight PA's vital investigative journalism for Pennsylvania as part of our end-of-year fundraising campaign. Help raise $125,000 in support of Spotlight PA's vital investigative journalism for Pennsylvania as part of our end-of-year fundraising campaign.

Meet our team

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.

Reporters

Photo of Stephen Caruso
Photo of Stephen Caruso

The Capitol

Stephen Caruso

Capitol Reporter

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.
Photo of Angela Couloumbis
Photo of Angela Couloumbis

money In Government And Politics

Angela Couloumbis

Investigative Reporter

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.
Photo of Ashad Hajela
Photo of Ashad Hajela

Rural Affairs

Ashad Hajela

Rural Affairs Reporter

Focus: Agriculture/environment, broadband, criminal justice, education, healthcare, government spending, and housing

Ashad Hajela is a Report for America corps member at Spotlight PA’s State College Bureau. He follows the impact of issues like broadband, education and healthcare on the fast-evolving rural central and northern Pennsylvania.
As a former Stabile Fellow at Columbia Journalism School, he investigated the parole system in New York and problematic hospitals and nursing homes in North Carolina and New Hampshire. He previously worked at The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina where he covered crime and criminal justice.
Photo of Kate Huangpu
Photo of Kate Huangpu

State Government

Kate Huangpu

Government Reporter

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.
Photo of Charlotte Keith
Photo of Charlotte Keith

Economic Development

Charlotte Keith

Investigative Reporter

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.
Photo of Ed Mahon
Photo of Ed Mahon

Human Services

Ed Mahon

Investigative Reporter

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.
Photo of Wyatt Massey
Photo of Wyatt Massey

Penn State University

Wyatt Massey

Investigative Reporter

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.
Photo of Katie Meyer
Photo of Katie Meyer

Government

Katie Meyer

Government Editor/Reporter

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.
Photo of Danielle Ohl
Photo of Danielle Ohl

Justice System

Danielle Ohl

Investigative Reporter

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.
Photo of Min Xian
Photo of Min Xian

Accountability

Min Xian

Local Accountability Reporter

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.

Leadership

Photo of Christopher Baxter
Photo of Christopher Baxter

Christopher Baxter

Executive Director & Editor in Chief

Christopher Baxter is the executive director 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.
Photo of Nicholas Beiling
Photo of Nicholas Beiling

Nicholas Beiling

Membership Manager

Nicholas joined Spotlight PA in August 2022 as the organization’s first Membership Manager. He was recently a staff member for a New York state senator in the Buffalo, New York area, and he also previously worked on multiple political campaigns, assisting with fundraising and organizing in upstate New York. Nicholas is based in State College and will work closely with Spotlight PA’s development team to lead our grassroots donation program both locally and statewide.
Photo of Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein
Photo of Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein

Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein

Development Director

Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein joined Spotlight PA as the Development Director 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. 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.
Photo of Skyler Cruz
Photo of Skyler Cruz

Skyler Cruz

Operations Manager

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.
Photo of Colin Deppen
Photo of Colin Deppen

Colin Deppen

Newsletter Editor

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.
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.
Photo of Sarah Hutchins
Photo of Sarah Hutchins

Sarah Hutchins

Investigations Editor

Sarah Hutchins is Spotlight PA’s investigations editor. She came to the newsroom from Investigative Reporters & Editors, where she spent eight years as the organization’s Training Director and Editorial Director. At IRE she developed and delivered intensive training to journalists around the world and coached reporters on using data, public records and other investigative techniques. Sarah has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Indiana University and a master’s degree in data science and analytics from the University of Missouri. She has worked as a reporter for newspapers in several states.
Photo of Carl Johnson
Photo of Carl Johnson

Carl Johnson

Technology Director

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, and a web developer for The Atlantic. 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 currently teaches interactive design for journalists at the University of Maryland. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, two children, and lucky black cat.
Photo of Stephen Kearse
Photo of Stephen Kearse

Stephen Kearse

Assistant Editor

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.
Photo of Michelle Mertz
Photo of Michelle Mertz

Michelle Mertz

Director of Major Gifts

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.
Photo of Kathleen Pavelko
Photo of Kathleen Pavelko

Kathleen Pavelko

Major Gifts Advisor

Kathleen Pavelko is a journalist, media executive and consultant to non-profits. She served as President and CEO of WITF in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania from 1999 to 2019. She now holds the title of CEO Emerita. In her consultant role, Pavelko’s current assignment is to establish a major donor program for Spotlight PA’s new bureau, based in State College. Ms. Pavelko was founder and advocate for PA Post, a statewide non-partisan digital news service launched by WITF in September 2018. PA Post is now part of Spotlight PA.

During her tenure as CEO of WITF Public Media, Pavelko secured $21 million in capital campaign contributions to build the Public Media Center, which opened in April 2007. Ms. Pavelko also served as president and CEO of Prairie Public Broadcasting (1996-99), and in various roles at Penn State Public Broadcasting (1987-1996), at West Virginia Public Broadcasting and as a freelance journalist in Athens and London.

Ms. Pavelko earned a B.A. in ancient history and an M.A. in Journalism from Penn State University, certificates in non-profit management from the U.C./Berkeley and the Harvard Business School and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Elizabethtown College. She currently serves on the boards of UPMC Central PA, the UPMC Health Plan board and the Archaeological Institute of America.

Photo of Yaasmeen Piper
Photo of Yaasmeen Piper

Yaasmeen Piper

Events Coordinator

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.
Photo of Sarah Rafacz
Photo of Sarah Rafacz

Sarah Rafacz

State College Editor

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.