Keystone Crossroads project to explore challenges facing PA cities

Written by witf Staff Report | Jan 15, 2014 11:40 AM

(Undated) -- It’s no secret Pennsylvania's cities are facing challenges.

They range 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, many of Pennsylvania’s traditional news outlets are focusing less and less on enterprise reporting about these and other major issues facing cities.

But, a new collaborative effort among the state’s public media organizations aims to reverse the trend.

WITF and three other stations are teaming up on a project dedicated to exploring “Keystone Crossroads: Rust or Revival?” The initiative plans to focus on the root causes, human effects and possible cures of reversing the slow decline facing urban areas, such as immigration, local government, neighborhood life and poverty. Keystone Crossroads aims to offer connected, statewide reporting to help Pennsylvanians see the challenges of their cities more clearly, understand how they are connected, and create momentum to try out possible solutions at the local and state levels.The data-driven, multimedia project will also involve a level of community engagement to raise awareness and generate useful civic conversations through ongoing dialogue about the issues and stories covered via social media as well as in-person events and community forums.

"Two out of five Pennsylvanians live in a city that's been declared 'distressed' by the state, yet conversation about these ‘cities in crisis’ is lacking. At the same time, people are flocking to cities, bringing new energy, ideas and hope,” says Chris Satullo, vice president of news and civic dialogue at Keystone Crossroads lead station, WHYY. “Solutions are being found, here and elsewhere, to chronic urban problems. Keystone Crossroads will survey the intersection between challenges and solutions; between rust and revival."

The hope is the joint reporting project would be to counter a Pennsylvania syndrome that tends to hamper public understanding. With fragmented media markets and a habit of deeply parochial thinking throughout the state, residents of one struggling city rarely grasp that they share challenges with peer cities across the state, and do surprisingly little to cross-pollinate ideas or make common cause in the political arena.

WHYY in Philadelphia will serve as the lead station. Reporters will be based at WITF , WHYY, WPSU in State College and WESA in Pittsburgh, and freelance journalists will also contribute to the Local Journalism Center (LJC). Pittsburgh’s WQED joins the collaboration as associate partner.  Journalists 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. Each Crossroads’ reporter will be assigned lead responsibility for a group of cities. WITF ’s will include all 17 counties in its coverage area, with a focus on cities like Harrisburg, Lancaster, York and Lebanon.

"We are thrilled to be a part of a team of journalists who will be dedicated to helping, not just central Pennsylvanians, but people across the state have a better understanding of their neighbors and the communities they call home. Keystone Crossroads will look at specific public policies and explain how they impact the lives of Pennsylvanians," says WITF 's Multimedia News Director Tim Lambert. "The team will build off the StateImpact Pennsylvania model of molding broadcast and data-driven digital journalism together. It’s what public media does best. WITF will work with its LJC partners to provide the highest quality of coverage through this unique journalistic collaboration to cover the major issues facing PA cities and discovering the ties that bind them.”

Keystone Crossroads is being funded through a two-year, $1.5 million grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CBP) and will launch in early 2014.

Many of the lessons WITF and WHYY learned from their previous partnership on StateImpact Pennsylvania will be applied to the LJC. The joint project is entering its third year and has been recognized with the prestigious DuPont-Columbia Silver Baton and both National and Regional Edward R. Murrow awards for its in-depth reporting on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation and the state’s energy economy.

Lambert recently discussed the project on Smart Talk and WHYY aired a commentary by Satullo about Keystone Crossroads:

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