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From the archives 2019

Spotlight PA: Unrivaled team of investigative reporters to hold the powerful to account in Pa. capital

by Christopher Baxter |

There’s nothing short of a crisis in our state capital.

Every year, more of Pennsylvania’s sprawling and costly bureaucracy operates without scrutiny from investigative reporters, the watchdogs tracking how our hard-earned tax dollars are spent, ensuring the vulnerable are protected and demanding answers from lawmakers about waste, fraud, and abuse.

Together, we can restore accountability.

I’m proud to introduce you to Spotlight PA, an ambitious, statewide and donor-funded newsroom launching in September with the mission of holding the powerful in Pennsylvania to account through hard-hitting investigative journalism.

Spotlight PA is an unprecedented collaboration born of the grit and determination that makes our state great. It’s powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer, the state’s pillar of investigative journalism, in partnership with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PennLive/Patriot-News in Harrisburg.

In just the past seven years, they’ve collectively won four Pulitzer Prizes — the highest honor in American journalism — and had multiple Pulitzer finalists.

While we’re based in Harrisburg, Spotlight PA serves everyone in the commonwealth.

We’re collaborating closely with PA Post, a new statehouse reporting project by Central Pennsylvania’s beloved public radio station, WITF, as well as The Caucus, a watchdog print publication focused on the capital and produced by LNP Media Group, the leading source of news in Lancaster County.

We’re extending our partnerships to academia, working hand-in-hand with Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication to create a new service to help Spotlight PA request, clean, analyze, and localize important statewide datasets as part of its investigative work.

And we’re committed to being a collaborative partner with other local newsrooms across the state. Over the coming year, we’ll work with newsroom leaders to grow our partnerships and share our resources and content free of charge to provide as many people as possible access to high-quality state government news.

Spotlight PA’s independent team of a dozen journalists will work from a new office located two blocks from the Capitol. Our eight investigative reporters include Pennsylvania veterans Angela Couloumbis, Liz Navratil, and Daniel Simmons-Ritchie, as well as other accomplished professionals recruited from across the U.S. with diverse backgrounds and skills.

The formation of Spotlight PA marks the single largest expansion of the statehouse reporting corps in Pennsylvania in recent history, and, at launch, will be the largest newsroom dedicated solely to reporting on the state government and urgent statewide issues.

Our journalists will be assigned to cover specific state departments, commissions, and agencies, as well as topics of statewide importance. Many of these areas have gone without serious scrutiny from the press for years. Spotlight PA reporters will have the time, resources, and mandate to be fearless in their pursuit of the truth.

Far from just providing the news, we intend to connect and engage with you through innovative digital storytelling, creative partnerships, community events, and more.

This important journalism, however, is hardly free to produce.

Initial financial support for Spotlight PA comes from the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and a first-ever coalition of nearly a dozen other national and Pennsylvania community nonprofits that recognize the importance that the decisions and actions in Harrisburg have on their communities, from Erie to York, Pittsburgh to Philadelphia.

They also know and agree that our work must be independent and free from influence. Spotlight PA retains full editorial control, and our funders have no say whatsoever about which stories we pursue or how we pursue them.

But the future of this unique endeavor rests in your hands. If you believe Pennsylvania’s government should answer to you, be honest with you, be transparent and responsive to your needs, please become a Founding Donor to Spotlight PA and show your support for our team of professional and nonpartisan journalists. If you’re not ready to join the effort now, judge us by our work and let us earn your trust.

In the coming weeks, you’ll begin to see Spotlight PA stories on Inquirer.com and across The Philadelphia Inquirer network. This new, high-quality reporting from the state capital is yet another example of The Inquirer’s commitment to indispensable journalism, made possible by its passionate subscribers throughout the region.

We also need your help to uncover wrongdoing. Many of the most impactful investigations start with a call or email from a concerned reader. If you have tips or suggestions for an investigation, please visit spotlightpa.org/tips to see the various secure ways you can communicate with our team.

Ever since my first job as a local reporter in the Lehigh Valley for The Morning Call — and most recently as investigations editor in New Jersey’s largest newsroom, NJ.com and The Star-Ledger — I have seen how hard-hitting investigative journalism can drive change and improve lives, especially for those who are marginalized or forgotten.

Now, after having lived in Pennsylvania for more than a decade, I’m proud to be leading such an ambitious effort to provide the people of this state more of the high-quality investigative journalism we all need and deserve. Together, we can hold the powerful to account.

Christopher Baxter is the editor-in-chief of Spotlight PA .

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