Shining the Spotlight on Spotlight PA
For the past year, State College has been home to an independent, nonpartisan newsroom dedicated to high-quality investigative journalism in Pennsylvania. This organization, known as Spotlight PA, has opened its first regional bureau in State College and covers local news across Centre County and 14 surrounding counties.
Spotlight PA covers issues surrounding the Pennsylvania state government and state-wide issues that include elections, voting, economic development, health and human services, and more. The State College regional bureau dives into more local news, as well as dedicated coverage surrounding Penn State University. This organization has been established as a nonprofit under the Lenfest Institute of Journalism and now is transitioning to operate as an independent nonprofit.
The Centre County community has embraced Spotlight PA’s regional bureau and shown support in a multitude of ways.
“We’ve gotten tons of positive feedback to our reporting and raised almost $13,000 during [our first] Centre Gives, which we were not expecting,” said Sarah Rafacz, Editor at the State College regional bureau. “To see that kind of response from people that wanted to support our work and help us continue our mission is cool. We’ve been grateful for the welcome that people have given us.”
Since Spotlight PA launched in 2019, almost 500 Centre County residents have donated to the statewide newsroom. Additionally, during the first year of its State College regional bureau, Centre County residents contributed $76,000 to help support its local reporting.
One of those supporters is Katie O’Toole, an assistant teaching professor of journalism at Penn State and Spotlight PA’s State College community campaign chair. As chair, Katie leads the newly formed volunteer leadership committee to help advance revenue and the visibility of the bureau’s impact on Centre County.
She shared the importance of Spotlight PA as an organization and why she supports its mission.
“I support Spotlight PA because their reporters are doing a phenomenal job of giving us the information and understanding we need – of local government, of Penn State, of rural issues like internet access, and more,” said Katie. “I appreciate that they’re keeping tabs on those who are making decisions that affect all of our lives, and they’re doing it so well that they’re becoming a model for news media across the country.”
A core focus for Spotlight PA is to put the community and its information needs first. This is why when the organization decided to create its State College bureau, it spoke with community members and stakeholders to find out what they wanted and needed from Spotlight PA’s reporting.
“I was involved with talking to community members about what they wanted to see, what story ideas they had, what’s important to them, and what they thought our coverage should look like,” said Sarah. “Ultimately, the idea of opening a regional bureau is to provide local coverage and to do it in a way that’s comprehensive. And holding people and institutions that have power to account, [while] making sure that our community’s information needs are at the center of what we are doing.”
By following this example, Spotlight PA proves the importance of local news and how it helps communities like Centre County thrive.
“Local news is essential to the health of a community. Local newsrooms and reporters inform residents about policies that affect their everyday lives, expose abuses of power and hold influential people and institutions accountable, and explain how taxpayer dollars are spent,” added Sarah.
By providing an important public service to the Centre County community (and beyond), Spotlight PA is quickly establishing itself as a household name for many local community members. Spotlightpa.org averages more than 115,000 visitors per month, and it has a partnership with three newsrooms in Centre County – the Centre Daily Times, StateCollege.com, and WPSU.
In addition to its local community and government stories, what has made Spotlight PA so special in the Centre County community is its Penn State coverage. This organization is home to the only investigative reporter in the country solely committed to covering Penn State.
“The biggest way we’ve benefitted the Centre County audience, in particular, is through our Penn State coverage. Having a full-time reporter dedicated to Penn State and looking into the transparency and accountability issues has been important,” said Sarah. “We’ve gotten a lot of feedback that they are appreciative of the way we approach our Penn State reporting.”
From raising almost $13,000 during its first Centre Gives to boasting almost 3,700 subscribers on its weekly newsletter, Talk of the Town, Spotlight PA has proven the need for investigative journalism in the community.
“Every community, and especially one as vibrant and important as Centre County, needs independent, nonpartisan journalists to hold those in power to account, track our tax dollars, and shine a light on waste, fraud, and corruption,” said Christopher Baxter, Executive Director and Editor in Chief of Spotlight PA. “Together with our many partners in the region, Spotlight PA’s team of reporters are writing stories that would have otherwise gone untold, demanding accountability, and driving positive change.”
Spotlight PA is celebrating the one-year anniversary of its State College bureau by hosting Clink and Think Quiz Bash on August 6 from 4:30-7:30 p.m. at Axemann Brewery. Learn more about Spotlight PA and this event at their website.