The project, called Spotlight PA, will include more than a dozen multiplatform journalists, who will jointly scour public documents, build sources across the political spectrum, and follow the money to shed light on one of the most expensive state governing bodies in the nation.
“It’s no secret that Pennsylvania’s sunshine laws are some of the weakest in America,” said Philadelphia Inquirer Executive Editor Stan Wischnowski, referring to the state’s public-disclosure rules. “It takes more journalists’ feet on the ground to ensure that citizens are truly represented. There needs to be more transparency, and one of the primary goals of Spotlight PA is to provide more sunlight for the entire commonwealth.”
Spotlight PA will also partner with PA Post, a new policy- and civic engagement-focused news enterprise led by Harrisburg’s WITF Public Media, an NPR affiliate, and with students and staff at Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication under the direction of Aron Pilhofer, the James B. Steele Chair in Journalism Innovation.
"In an era when so many important developments are occurring in the states, it is more vital than ever that we understand what is happening in these laboratories of democracy," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Executive Editor David Shribman said.
Spotlight PA has secured commitments of more than $1 million toward a three-year goal of $2 million. Fundraising is ongoing.
Initial commitments for Spotlight PA come from the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, the Philadelphia Foundation, and the Wyncote Foundation. Other funders include Berwyn-based Poor Richard’s Charitable Trust, operated by Lisa Roberts and David Seltzer, and the Nicholas B. Ottaway Foundation, which supports press freedom.
"Collaborative reporting initiatives like Spotlight PA help local news organizations maximize resources and expand coverage at a time when many are cutting back or eliminating beats," said Jim Friedlich, executive director of the Lenfest Institute, which owns the Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com.
Spotlight PA has begun its search for an independent editor-in-chief, who will report to Wischnowski, Shribman, and Robert M. Krasne, CEO of LNP Media Group. Once an editor-in-chief is hired, that person will assemble a team that is planned to be fully staffed by the end of this year, Wischnowski said.
The team will include four full-time reporters from existing staff, and will hire seven or eight more journalists from the outside, including including the editor, creating a model that its foundation funders hope can be replicated.
The journalism will initially appear on the three groups' websites. A newsletter will also be created once the full team is in place. And a more robust multi-platform plan will be drawn up once hiring is completed.
The Spotlight PA joint venture will also hire a head of technology and a development officer focused on securing funding, building audiences, and organizing partnerships to share coverage with other outlets throughout Pennsylvania.
"LNP Media Group is honored to join forces with two outstanding news organizations that are equally committed to exposing waste and fraud in the capital. This partnership brings together Pennsylvania's premier investigative journalists for that common goal," Krasne said.
PA Post has also assembled commercial and noncommercial media organizations, including Philadelphia’s WHYY, to collaborate with Spotlight PA on some reporting.