The rapid decline of trusted, nonpartisan news in communities across Pennsylvania is alarming — and it’s only getting worse. Just last month, four more newspapers were sold to a media group owned by a hedge fund with a reputation for cutbacks and layoffs.
Unfortunately, folks in Berks County already know how this story ends. The same ownership acquired the Reading Eagle in 2019, and in the years since, coverage has suffered — not because of a lack of commitment by journalists, but because of a simple lack of resources.
This situation demands our attention, and bold solutions.
Spotlight PA was founded in 2019 to produce statehouse and statewide investigative and public-service journalism, to share it with news organizations across the state, and to ensure the public has free and unfettered access to the truth about what’s happening in Pennsylvania.
And as our work has driven real policy change and been recognized by some of the most prestigious national journalism organizations, the call has grown for Spotlight PA to help bring more investigative journalists back to our local communities, like Reading and Berks County.
Last year, we launched our first regional reporting bureau as a test case. Based in State College, a new team of three reporters and an editor cover central and north-central Pennsylvania, including rural issues, Penn State University, and local municipal accountability.
Our goal was to take three years to understand how the regional bureau works best, how to best serve a more local audience, and how to ensure our efforts are sustainable.
But the crisis in local news is unrelenting. So when the Berks County Community Foundation and our media partners got together last year to discuss the crisis in the Reading area, we were moved to action. Now, we need your help building a coalition of support.
With financial support from the community foundation, Spotlight PA is studying the potential for a regional bureau based in Berks County. The severe erosion of local reporting here has stifled transparency and accountability at all levels, and led to a less-informed public.
You can sign up for updates about this exciting project at spotlightpa.org/berks.
You can support Spotlight PA’s efforts statewide by making a tax-deductible gift now. For a limited time, all contributions will be DOUBLED by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Together, we can reverse that tide. We can bring talented reporters back to the region, dedicate time and resources to in-depth investigative and public-service journalism about our powerful institutions, and better inform and equip residents to get involved and drive change.
We can only do that, however, with your help. Heather Adams, the executive director and managing editor of Berks Community Television (BCTV), has taken a temporary leave from her job to lead a year-long effort to build a coalition of community support for a potential bureau.
We are fortunate to benefit from Heather’s leadership expertise and deep local roots. She is a lifelong resident of Berks County, and in addition to her work with BCTV, is an active local volunteer, participating with committees, projects, events, and on boards of organizations in Reading and Berks. She also recognizes the unique moment to rebuild news here.
Heather has assembled an advisory committee of 9 local leaders who will help guide Spotlight PA as we conduct listening sessions and research to better understand information gaps and what kind of news coverage community members want. The committee will also explore how to best distribute future journalism, and how to enhance existing media partners in the region.
As part of the planning project, Spotlight PA is also conducting a fundraising feasibility study to assess the possibility of annual charitable support from individuals, foundations, and corporations. This study is led by Richard R Blain & Associates (RRBA), fundraising consultants with extensive Berks County experience.
We’re not predetermining the outcome of this project or how to best serve the region. We’re putting the community in charge, and we would love to hear from you if you would like to attend a listening session or financially support the effort. Please reach out directly to Heather Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to working with Berks County residents over the next several months. We are optimistic about the future of Spotlight PA and bold, high-quality investigative and public-service journalism in Berks County, and we are honored to have the opportunity to collaborate with Pennsylvanians on this effort.
BEFORE YOU GO… If you learned something from this article, pay it forward and contribute to Spotlight PA at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundations and readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.