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: Legislature, county and local governments
Disinformation has a broad impact on politics and public opinion. Monitoring schools and local government as well as elections and state politics, Coston covers the impacts of disinformation on policy making, elections, and public life. They track false statements from politicians and political organizations, what motivates legislation, and the goals of political movements.
Originally from Southern California, Coston (he/they) got their start covering higher education as a reporting fellow for CalMatters, a nonprofit newspaper. They sued the University of California twice for access to public records in college, and won local journalism awards for their subsequent reporting. Coston graduated from UC San Diego in 2020.
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: Pennsylvania Department of Health, local health departments, COVID-19, environmental health
Policy decisions at all levels of government can affect the well-being of Pennsylvanians — a fact that was heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Martines highlights how and whether governments at all levels are keeping their promises to ensure the health of Pennsylvanians.
Martines previously reported for the Tribune-Review, covering everything from breaking news to education and county government. She has been based in Pittsburgh since 2016.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, daughter, two cats, and a dog.
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.
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.