2021 General Excellence in Online Journalism, Micro Newsroom winner


Charting a Path for American Journalism on the Local Level

About the Project

When big things are happening, sometimes you can wrongly feel like you are the center of the universe. But it really was the case for the Pittsburgh region during the consequential 2020 presidential election. The nation’s eyes laid upon Allegheny County as ballots were counted days after the election to determine which president would usher us through an immense vaccination campaign, racial equity reforms, an economic recession and the climate crisis. PublicSource’s role in this pivotal time was unwavering from our core mission — to inspire critical thinking and bold ideas through innovative local journalism.

We would not only be there to report vote counts; we provided context on election security and what to do if the uncertain election season was affecting your mental health. We used Instagram stories to amplify voters’ hopes and fears and a Facebook group to help people navigate our state’s first general election with no-excuse mail-in ballots. PublicSource prepared readers for the delay in election results, corrected the national narrative on how voters felt about fracking, involved youth in absorbing Vice President Kamala Harris’ historic win and, after the insurrection, reminded users that the hate groups at the Capitol have long called Southwestern Pennsylvania home.

We helped our community quickly understand more than what happened, but why. We refined our approach to covering critical news events by leapfrogging reactionary recaps and seeking unique insights.
Our average users and pageviews more than doubled through the pandemic, and we’ve been able to retain more than 50% of our “COVID bump” growth.

Though our newsroom was remote for the entirety of this year, we collaborated externally and internally. We mobilized our audience to help source projects on COVID schooling and college student loan debt by creating easily shareable forms. Nearly the entire newsroom collaborated on Board Explorer, a news app shedding light on more than 500 people in our region’s unelected power structure.

We built innovative news designs that helped to elevate the voices of underrepresented people. In another partnership, we produced, an accessible site featuring reported articles, first-person essays, podcasts and video on the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We also created an accessible website design tipsheet and an alt-text style guide that we shared with others in Pittsburgh media. In other coverage, we shared perspectives of Pittsburgh’s Black and brown communities through podcasts, slow-motion video and a production of spoken-word poetry.

In 2020, PublicSource received two awards of excellence from the Society for News Design and 15 statewide journalism awards, including the Lenfest Institute Emerging Journalist Award. Another reporter received a Doris O’Donnell Innovations in Investigative Journalism Fellowship. And, most importantly, over the last year, we’ve received support from nearly 1,100 individual members and growing support from major donors and philanthropies.

Finally, we are proud to have invested in a human resources infrastructure to support personnel needs and talent development. As we celebrate our 10th anniversary this year, we know that this will create value for the next 10 years.