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How we reported our Neeli Bendapudi profile

Plus: A historic fundraising challenge, and all the election coverage you need to vote on Tuesday.


November 3, 2022
Inside this edition: How Spotlight PA reported on Neeli Bendapudi's high-wire act, a historic fundraising challenge, and all the election coverage you need to hit the polls on Tuesday.
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We've been challenged to raise $125,000 from our readers by December 31st, and if we do it, the Lenfest Insitute for Journalism will DOUBLE it. That means your gift to Spotlight PA will be matched dollar-for-dollar. Will you help us kick off this historic end-of-year campaign by making a tax-deductible gift now?

We need your support to continue to investigate our government and elected officials, track our tax dollars, and provide vital public-service and explanatory reporting so that more people can get involved in our communities. We are stronger together, but we can't do it without your support. Can we count on you to help us reach our goal?

—Sarah Rafacz, State College Editor
Behind the story: How Spotlight PA reported its Neeli Bendapudi profile
Daniel Fishel / For Spotlight PA

When I started covering Penn State for Spotlight PA’s State College regional bureau this summer, I was keenly interested in how the school’s new president, Neeli Bendapudi, would lead the largest university in Pennsylvania.

In July, I began digging into her past experiences as a business leader, professor, dean, and university president. My reporting process started broad — identifying themes over decades and looking for key moments that helped shape her leadership style.

To best predict how Bendapudi may lead at Penn State, my editors and I decided to analyze the most comparable position she’s held: her three-and-a-half-year tenure as president of the University of Louisville. We explored the problems she inherited, the choices she made, and the questions that remained after her unexpected departure for Happy Valley. 

I reviewed hundreds of pages of board meeting minutes, lawsuits, and internal University of Louisville emails, as well as past interviews and media appearances. I also spoke with 10 people who worked directly with or alongside Bendapudi in Kentucky.

My editors played a critical role in identifying some key moments of her presidency in Kentucky — stabilizing the university’s leadership, purchasing a local health care system, and responding to protests for greater racial justice in 2020.

The editing process was rigorous. Four editors read the profile multiple times —  checking everything from spelling, grammar, and clarity to organization and factual accuracy. As the reporter, I had to provide evidence to support each sentence, each statement of fact. For example, when I wrote that Bendapudi “regularly jokes about being a ‘recovering banker,’” I had to show my editors the multiple times over the years Bendapudi has used that phrase as a joke.

While the story is filled with quotes from Bendapudi, it’s important to note she did not directly answer questions from Spotlight PA for this piece. This summer, we contacted Penn State’s Office of Strategic Communications to request an interview with the president. The office responded that we would be added to a list of media organizations seeking an interview. That request was never granted.

In September, we again contacted Strategic Communications with a specific request to interview Bendapudi about her time at Louisville for this story. Lisa Powers, senior director of university public relations, wrote in an email, “President Bendapudi has already addressed particular aspects of her time as a leader at Louisville and is now focused on her tenure at Penn State.” Requests by Spotlight PA sent directly to the president’s office for an interview went unanswered.

About two weeks before we published the profile, we sent a detailed list of the story’s findings to Bendapudi, through the Office of Strategic Communications, to offer a final chance for comment. We gave Penn State a week to respond to, or refute, any of the assertions we intended to print in the story. 

This approach — sometimes called the “no surprises” letter — is typical in investigative journalism. It’s a measure of transparency and fairness we use to make sure no one is blindsided by details or allegations when a story is published. 

This time, Strategic Communications provided written comments from Bendapudi. We updated the story to include some of them, and revised other areas where the president’s new comments added clarity. We also published her comments — and our “no surprises” letter to her — in full online.

The entire process — from the first phone call to publication — took nearly four months. 

Read our profile of Neeli Bendapudi here.

Wyatt Massey, Penn State investigative reporter

This week, we're kicking off our biggest challenge in Spotlight PA history.

If we raise $125,000 by the end of this year, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism will DOUBLE it. That means if you contribute to Spotlight PA now, it will be matched dollar for dollar, powering our vital journalism into 2023.

Make a tax-deductible gift and start this campaign with a bang »

The vital work of Spotlight PA is just getting started in State College and the surrounding region. From holding Penn State to account, to examining how our local municipalities are spending our tax money, to raising awareness about issues faced by rural residents, this is journalism you won't get anywhere else.

Our end-of-year fundraising campaign is our most important of the year, and we want to prove how much folks in north-central Pennsylvania value Spotlight PA's work. Send a gift now and don't miss this special opportunity to double your impact and move us one step closer to unlocking our HUGE bonus.
🗳️ Election Center
Read our complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website.

Spotlight on the Issues: Where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on:

Mail Ballots, Election Security, & Voting Rights
» Taxes & Business Regulations
» Rural Health Care, Agriculture, & Broadband
» Abortion, Medicaid, & Opioids
» College Funding & Student Debt
» Energy & Environment
» Crime & Justice
» LGBTQ Rights

A complete listing of Spotlight PA voter guides:

» Your complete guide to voting in the Nov. 8 election
» Everything you need to know about mail ballots
» Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
» How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot
» No constitutional amendments on the ballot, but big ones loom
» How to serve as a poll worker on Nov. 8
» These Pa. voters haven't missed a Nov. election for 50+ years
» How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election

En Español:

» Una guía básica para investigar a los candidatos
» Cómo trabajar como trabajador electoral el 8 de noviembre
» Todo lo que necesita saber para votar por correo
» Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador
» Una guía completa para las elecciones del 8 de noviembre

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
📝 More From Spotlight PA
» Penn State cancels its Center for Racial Justice after faculty push for funding decision

» Election officials should not count undated mail ballots on Nov. 8, Pa. high court rules

» The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra paid $15K to take Jake Corman, another Pa. lawmaker to Europe

» Missing traffic stop data from Pa. State Police undercut 2021 analysis for racial disparities

» Democrats bet on abortion rights as winning issue as they seek control of Pa. House

» A Pa. county is charging people to search court documents — an unusual and undue burden, experts say
📷 Local Gem
Membership Manager Nick Beiling took this photo at our "Meet the Reporters" event last week. Want to be featured here? Send your best local pics to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org.
📰 In Other News
» More than 250 'concerned faculty' at Penn State sign letter on racial justice, equality (Centre Daily Times)

» Gregg Township fire chief charged with stealing thousands from relief association (Centre Daily Times)

» Commonwealth University offers guaranteed admission to grads of 50 Pa. school districts (WPSU)

» Lycoming Commissioners continue debate on location of new facilities for coroner (NorthcentralPA.com)

» A 'coward' or legally insane? Trial begins in 2016 killing of Pine Grove Mills woman (Centre Daily Times)

» Penn State Athletics changes rules for Beaver Stadium student section after safety concerns (WPSU)

» Patton Township man pleads guilty to rape, sexual assault of 6 women (StateCollege.com)
📅 Events
Want us to list your event? Send it to us.

» Nov. 3: State College borough's Community Oversight Board is hosting a public forum on the police response to the Oct. 24 student protest at Penn State.

» Nov. 5: Millbrook Playhouse, in Clinton County, hosts Brews in the Barn, a beer-tasting event that also includes live music and a chili cook-off.

» Nov. 5-6: More than 50 local artists and makers will exhibit at The Rivet's Winter Market.

» Nov. 6: Shop handmade items at the Holiday Craft Fair at The Casino at Lakemont.

» Nov. 8: The annual Election Day Soup Luncheon takes place at the Kane Community Center.
🧩 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.


Last week's answer: Coordinates

Oops — we stumped y'all! Better luck this week!
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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