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Why sharing documents helps us cover Penn State

Plus: A possible Lyme disease vaccine, making plant fibers into paper, and a Viking ship.

August 11, 2022
Inside this edition: Why sharing documents with us helps us cover Penn State, a possible Lyme disease vaccine, and making plant fibers into paper.
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Help Us Cover Penn State
Abby Drey / Centre Daily Times

Covering Penn State presents a unique challenge.

No, it’s not having to sit through every Penn State fan’s take on why Michigan sucks.

The challenge has to do with access — specifically, access to open records.

Taxpayer-funded organizations in the U.S. — from school districts to borough councils to local police — are largely subject to open records laws. In Pennsylvania, these statutes are known as “Right-to-Know laws.”

If you’re curious about which companies bid for public contracts and how much your local government paid, you can file a Right-to-Know request. 

Want to know whether law enforcement is discriminating when pulling people over for traffic stops? File a Right-to-Know request.

But if you want to know what’s happening in Old Main, the Right-to-Know Law offers little, if any, assistance. 

Penn State is one of four “state-related” institutions in Pennsylvania. The others are University of Pittsburgh, Lincoln University, and Temple University. The special designation means Penn State is not subject to open records laws beyond the public disclosure of basic financial information.

So, our success covering Penn State — and the public’s ability to understand what is going on inside a nearly $8 billion institution with tremendous influence in the state — relies on you.

Many of the best investigative stories are possible because of people inside an institution who know what is happening and want to solve a problem or put an end to waste, fraud, or abuse. These people may never appear in a story, and the public may never know they were involved in the reporting process, but they provide the information needed to get a story to publication.

Often, primary source records — documents such as memos, emails, reports, and more — are vital to a successful investigation. Which is why we’ve established a few secure ways for you to share documents with us.

You can do so by signing up for a free account and using Protonmail (write to us at spotlightpa@protonmail.com) or by sending snail mail to Spotlight PA State College, 210 W. Hamilton Ave., #331, State College PA, 16801.

You can also connect with me on Twitter, over email, or on Signal, an encrypted phone messaging app, at 445-236-0562.

It’s important you know that we promise confidentiality if you share documents with us. It can be your only interaction with us, or it can be the first of many. You can provide follow-up contact information, or choose not to. 

Some people want to play a more active role in our stories, helping us understand documents, how the information therein fits into a larger picture, and who else might be able to verify what has been shared. That can be particularly helpful when there are few other routes to gain access to documents, as is the case with Penn State, given it is largely not subject to the state’s open records law. 

Investigative journalism is not a magic trick. We don’t have subpoena power, and we largely rely on well-meaning individuals who are moved to make information public in order to right a wrong. That can be a scary step to take, but we work with our sources every step of the way.

The best way to start is with a simple conversation, even if it’s off the record (meaning it’s not for publication). I look forward to hearing from you.

Wyatt Massey, Penn State investigative reporter

📝 More From Spotlight PA
» Critics call water quality bill moving through Pa. legislature a back door to privatization

» Your guide to the last hurrahs of summer

» PLUS: On Friday, August 12 at 6 p.m. ET, meet our new State College regional bureau team, get an inside look at what we’re investigating, and tell us how we can better connect with you. RSVP for the event here. Tell us what you want to know about the new bureau at events@spotlightpa.org.
📷 Local Gem
Daisies and echinacea at The Arboretum at Penn State, via @plumriverphoto. Want to be featured here? Send your best local pics to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org.
📰 In Other News
» State College Area schools will provide free meals to some students. Here's who is eligible(Centre Daily Times)

» Major test of first possible Lyme vaccine in 20 years begins (Associated Press)

» 'We've got to be the leader,' Penn State's AD says of NIL. What's standing in the way? (Centre Daily Times)

» Workforce development program includes all three school districts; Wellsboro considers developing its own app (Wellsboro Gazette)

» Bennetts Valley 'Save Our School Committee' holds silent protest, speaks to St. Marys board members (The Courier-Express)
📅 Events
Want us to list your event? Send it to us.

» Aug. 11-13: Bradford celebrates its Italian heritage with authentic, homemade cuisine, a meatball eating contest, fireworks, and more at Festa Italiana.

» Aug. 12-14: Vendors, fireworks, a car show, and a Viking ship highlight the 50th Mount Jewett Swedish Festival.

» Aug. 13: Support local Ukrainian refugees living in Centre County at the Sunflower Solidarity Drive.

» Aug. 14-20: The 116th McKean County Fair has carnival rides, animals, and more.

» Aug. 17: Learn how tree and plant fibers are turned into paper during a workshop led by Penn State libraries staff at The Arboretum at Penn State.
🧩 The Puzzler
An anagram is a word, phrase, or name formed by rearranging the letters of another. For example, "spotlight" also forms "stoplight."

Decode the anagram and send your answer to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA State College swag.

Good luck!

Last week's answer: Earth

Congrats to Warren D., who will receive Spotlight PA State College swag. Others who answered correctly: Steve B., Eddy Z., Donna D., Kathy B., Jean M., and Jay G.
Do you have events, community shoutouts, questions about our region, or tips on stories that we should pursue? Email our team.
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