New public media project will focus on cities' distresses

Written by Tim Lambert | Nov 3, 2013 7:49 AM

It’s no secret. Cities across the state are facing challenges ranging from financial distress to aging infrastructure to outmoded tax policy.

Statistics show two out of every five Pennsylvanians live in a city or town that has been declared financially distressed and one in five live in a city dealing with dire pension funding.

In the midst of an ever-changing media landscape, a new collaborative effort among the state’s public media organizations aims to take a look at these issues. witf and four other stations are teaming up on a project dedicated to exploring problems facing cities across the state.

The initiative plans to focus on the root causes, human effects and possible cures of reversing the slow decline facing urban areas. The data-driven, multimedia approach will aim to sustain a connected, contextualized, statewide reporting on urban challenges. It also would involve a level of community engagement to raise awareness and generate useful civic conversations via social media as well as in-person events and community forums.

Reporters will be based at witf, WHYY in Philadelphia, WPSU in State College and WESA and WQED in Pittsburgh, as part of the Local Journalism Center. They will travel around the state to bring public media-quality reporting to cities that usually get spotty or minimal attention such as Allentown, Scranton, Reading and Altoona. witf’s region is expected to include all 17 counties in its coverage area with a focus on cities like Harrisburg, Lancaster, York and Lebanon.

The initiative will be through a two-year grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. WHYY will serve as the lead station.

Many of the lessons witf and WHYY learned from their previous partnership on StateImpact Pennsylvania will be applied to the effort. The hope is the new joint reporting project on cities would counter a Pennsylvania syndrome that tends to hamper public understanding. With fragmented media markets and a habit of parochial thinking across the state, residents of one struggling city rarely grasp that they share challenges with peer cities elsewhere.

The work aims to help Pennsylvanians see the challenges facing their cities more clearly, understand how they are connected, and create momentum to try out possible solutions.

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