The non-profit news model is continuing to make headway in the industry, as a new Pittsburgh non-profit site is being added to its ranks.
PublicSource.org, set to launch August 1st, aims to be a journalistic watchdog for the Pittsburgh area. According to its founder Grant Oliphant, the CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundation, there are two holes in news reporting- accountable journalism and community news. PublicSource hopes to provide both.
Oliphant told the American Journalism Review that he envisions PublicSouce as a way to foster an engaged, informed community. Although concrete citizen reporting efforts have not yet been announced, the team is discussing the best ways for the public to contribute tips, stories, and documents.
In the interview, Oliphant remarked on the need for watchdog journalism, an especially pertinent comment following the release of Pew Research Center's report on non-profit news this week. The report singled out not-for-profit Watchdog.org sites in twelve states as ideologically biased. The sites tend to be conservative, and they receive most of their funding from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which in turn receives some funding from the libertarian organization the Sam Adams Alliance.
For now, PublicSource's revenue streams are less politically motivated. The Pittsburgh Foundation's mission is to "build a better community", a relatively vague and benign ideal. It's other source of funding, the Knight Foundation, has helped start up other renowned non-profit news sites, such as The Texas Tribune and ProPublica. In fact, PublicSource aspires to become a regional ProPublica. It hopes its in-depth community coverage will eventually measure up to the Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporting non-profit.
Unlike Watchdog.org sites, PublicSource has not limited its coverage to politicians and government operations. Although it has not announced any specific topics yet, Oliphant gave AJR a sample of community issues it could look into, including race, poverty, health care, and environmental issues.
For now, PublicSource's funding is guaranteed for two years, thanks to grants from the Knight Foundation and Pittsburgh Foundation. For a long-term strategy, it is considering community contributions. It does not currently have any full time journalists on staff. It will be relying on freelance journalists and college students from Pittsburgh journalism programs.
The editor, Sharon Walsh, describes the initiative as a step into the "brave new world of journalism". As long as the publication sticks to its community principles, it will invigorate Pittsburgh's journalism scene. However, the Pew Research Center's report, revealing that nearly 50 percent of not-for-profit news sites are ideologically biased, serves as a timely warning for the venture. Watchdog journalism is a noble aim, but to achieve ProPublica's stature, unbiased journalism is key.