When we set out to launch Spotlight PA's first regional bureau, based in State College and covering central and northern Pennsylvania, we knew our communities needed more reporters on the ground.
After all, independent, nonpartisan journalism is essential to the health of our region and the strength of our democracy. So we set out to build a team with a mix of local experience and outside perspective, varying skillsets, diversity, and, most importantly, a commitment to the highest quality public-service journalism.
Today, we're thrilled to introduce them to you and welcome them to our team. Those from the region are staying in the region. And those from elsewhere are moving here. This is the single largest investment in new journalism in our area in decades.
And it's only possible with your support. Join this historic initiative and become a Founding Donor today. As a special bonus, your gift will be DOUBLED thanks to a generous matching grant.
Now, meet your new reporters:
Rural Affairs Reporter Ashad Hajela joins the State College bureau thanks to Spotlight PA's first-ever partnership with Report for America (RFA), a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms across the United States. He decided to become a journalist during his undergraduate studies at New York University "after I saw its power to elevate voices and hold people in power accountable," he says.
At The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, he covered crime, criminal justice, the COVID-19 pandemic, and protests following the police killing of George Floyd. He won a statewide award in 2020 for his reporting on high-crime motels in Raleigh. Most recently, he earned a master's degree in investigative journalism from Columbia.
At Spotlight PA State College, Ashad covers issues that affect the communities of rural north-central Pennsylvania. Those stories will span a variety of topics, including agriculture, climate change, housing, health care, utilities, criminal justice, and education.
You can reach Ashad with tips, story ideas, or a warm welcome at email@example.com.
Wyatt Massey, an investigative reporter focused on Penn State, previously worked in the Bible Belt as the religion reporter for the Chattanooga Free Press through RFA. His reporting for the paper uncovered sexual harassment allegations against a multimillionaire televangelist and questioned the validity of a supposed miracle in North Georgia. A graduate of Marquette University, Wyatt has also reported in Baltimore, New York City, and Haiti.
Wyatt says he's excited to dig into the issues that are important to people connected to Penn State and provide a lens of accountability to a powerful institution. He plans to focus on Penn State's influence on the region and how the university operates internally.
Wyatt runs ultramarathons in the woods and loves to be outside. "I've really only worked in two industries in my life: farming and journalism. Moving to Pennsylvania gives me an opportunity to return to my more rural Midwest roots."
You can reach Wyatt with tips, story ideas, or a warm welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local accountability reporter Min Xian has covered state and local government, changing communities, and rural issues in central and northern Pennsylvania for the past five years as a reporter with WPSU. Min investigated Pennsylvania's lack of funding for indigenous defense and, amid national protests against police brutality, documented a small rural Pennsylvania town's fight to hold its police chief accountable.
Min worked as a part of several collaborative reporting projects including Keystone Crossroads and America Amplified. She says she's "drawn by nuanced investigative journalism that relates to everyday life." A graduate of Penn State, Min also brings multimedia journalism experience to the State College bureau.
You can reach Min with tips, story ideas, or a warm welcome at email@example.com.
As for me, I'm Sarah Rafacz, the bureau editor and a native of Centre County. I grew up in Pine Grove Mills and graduated from Penn State in 2015. After college, I got a job on the copy desk at the Centre Daily Times and have worked in local journalism in State College since. At the CDT, I reported on local government, development, and Penn State. For the past three-plus years, I was the editor of State College Magazine. There I focused on reflecting the broader scope of the community in its pages. I expanded readership and reach, and wrote about issues affecting local people — from the aftershocks of the police killing of Osaze Osagie to the effects of COVID-19.
I lead the bureau's local coverage efforts, as well as collaborations with partner outlets and community engagement. I believe nonprofit newsrooms are the future of local news because they prioritize accountability, public service, and impact.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next week!