Dig through our 2022 coverage, and you’ll unearth layers of long-buried problems and veins of inspiration.
From some angles, it was a rocky year, with ongoing pandemics, crumbling infrastructure, tax inequities and creeping threats to our environment. Beneath the crust, however, were gems of hope and glimmers of possibility in the form of solutions.
Our newsroom reported from the frontlines for many of the biggest news stories of 2022 in Allegheny County. We also uncovered hidden, ignored or underreported structural challenges facing our region. We investigated inadequate responses to campus sexual misconduct. We probed the disparities created and perpetuated by the property tax assessment system. We broke news about threats to privacy as facial recognition technology was being considered at Carnegie Mellon University. And when violence shook neighborhoods, we focused our lens on causes and solutions.
Before we ring in a new year, let’s reflect on and share some of our favorite content from the past 12 months. We hope you’ll revisit some of our favorite stories with us.
Is there any quick bridge fix after Fern Hollow’s fall?
Pittsburgh has seen its infrastructure collapse, cave in and catch fire in recent years. When the Fern Hollow Bridge crumbled in January, it captured the attention of a nation. Our team, led by local government reporter Charlie Wolfson, sprung to action as details unfurled, and kept pushing for elusive solutions. Residents shared their perspectives.
We investigated other times Pittsburgh infrastructure raised concerns. We gathered data about every other poorly rated bridge in Allegheny County and told residents why they shouldn’t panic. Forgetting the details? Check out a mini timeline of the Fern Hollow fallout. We pushed Mayor Ed Gainey’s administration for details on the delayed fixes for Pittsburgh’s other ailing spans.
Roe’s reversal undermines abortion rights and challenges our sense of Selves
When the Supreme Court decided to axe Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional right to abortion, we recognized it as a historic moment that demanded a comprehensive response. Pittsburgh is one city with many selves — both homegrown and transplants — all of whom deserve to see themselves and their perspectives reflected in Pittsburgh media. In May we created Selves, an art-packed newsletter filled with critically needed journalism on women’s issues, identity, race and gender. Across more than two dozen editions, we’ve included first-person perspectives, comics and photo essays about abortion, women’s rights and threats to the LGBTQ community — all localized to the Pittsburgh region. For months, we’ve witnessed classroom arguments about classic books and race, increased violence toward queer and trans people and creeping normalization of white supremacy. Selves answers that by providing a space to share and reflect on shifting societal norms and to provoke bold ideas to envision a future for all. If you haven’t already, today would be a great day to sign up.
Faith, Race, Place: Where do Pittsburgh’s spiritual roots lead?
Religion reporter Chris Hedlin noticed many Pittsburgh faith communities in a “period of transformation” and wrestling with a need for change, and she embarked on this project to connect Pittsburgh’s religious past and future. The project walks readers through Pittsburgh’s storied and complex religious past, including the story of Pittsburgh’s earliest Muslims and how house-of-worship-heavy neighborhoods were formed. She explored the impacts of immigration patterns, racism, industrialization — even the hills and rivers. How did these influences bring faith communities into being and shape how and where they worship? This reporting is sure to teach you something you didn’t already know.
Going beyond the tragedies to find causes and answers
When scores of gunshots shattered a party at an Airbnb in East Allegheny, Pittsburgh again confronted the ramifications of the nation’s gun culture. PublicSource reported on what it’s like to hear that “Level 1 GSWs” are headed your way, and provided breaking coverage of an attack on the funeral of a victim of another East Allegheny mass shooting, but our mission took us deeper.
From coverage on the locations of gunshots and use of that data in prosecutions, to reporter Amelia Winger’s dive into the neighborhood that endured two mass shootings, our focus remained on root causes and potential solutions to the chain of heartbreak.
What’s wrong with Allegheny County’s property taxes and housing market?
Allegheny County’s property tax system could’ve been a pioneer of fairness, but instead evolved into an exhibit of inequity in which some levies are based on market values, while others have been frozen for a decade. As a lawsuit threatened to upend a system of aging assessments and contentious appeals, we revealed that the county’s system would be illegal in most states. We covered the winners (“Popeye”) and those in the crosshairs of a system crying for reform. Tenants, meanwhile, face rising rents and perilous lease terms, while nonprofits dedicated to affordable housing joust with private interests, as reporter Eric Jankiewicz detailed. Intern Jack Troy asked: Does the future include more “in-law suites”?
Citizen watchdogs have their eyes on Shell
As Shell’s giant petrochemical plant steamed toward full capacity, environmental reporter Quinn Glabicki followed along as a network of Beaver County citizen scientists and local watchdogs trained to collect emissions data and nurdles, plus monitor air quality in an effort to document the “cracker’s” impact. Some installed air monitors and cameras.
Others gathered samples from the water’s edge. More and more we see citizens going to new lengths to address the global climate crisis and local environmental crises they face (think: activists gluing their heads to famous paintings or self-immolating in response to inaction on the climate crisis). The citizen science approach brings a global movement to our backyard.
CMUs consideration of facial recognition on campus gets shut down
In July, PublicSource obtained a draft policy that would allow Carnegie Mellon University police to use facial recognition during criminal investigations. Higher education reporter Emma Folts spoke with researchers and civil liberty advocates who argued the technology threatens privacy, normalizes surveillance and poses disproportionate risks to people of color. Sources also posited that the technology could rupture relationships between students and institutions. Ten days after Emma broke the story, Carnegie Mellon University withdrew its draft policy and released a statement saying that due to community feedback, the university was no longer considering the use of facial recognition technology. Two months later, student activists took to campus streets to demand a citywide ban on the use of facial recognition technology.
“…You can draw a straight line from PublicSource & [Reporter Emma Folts’s] reporting to this policy getting tabled. Grateful to have this kind of local independent journalism,” one reader wrote.
From the Source podcast explores big ideas and young voices
Many of you followed along in seasons 1 and 2 as host/community correspondent Jourdan Hicks spoke with Pittsburghers about how the COVID pandemic was reshaping their lives and perspectives. In seasons 3 and 4 of the From the Source podcast, we focused on trailblazers from across the region and engaged youth. Jourdan spoke with Lena Chen about how society needs to reframe what it considers “real work.” She engaged with Mark Williams, creator of the show “Hello, Humans!” — an episode many of you loved. Season 4, which will continue into early 2023, zooms in on youth perspectives, experiences and futures. Jourdan has spoken with teens about social media, youth violence, immigration and more. Many of you found the conversations compelling. We even hit 10,000 lifetime downloads! Re-listen to your favorite episodes or find a new favorite.
How has the pandemic changed Pittsburgh-area K-12 education?
While virtual school has faded into memory for most school children, pandemic-driven learning loss and behavioral issues made a lasting impression. Lajja Mistry chronicled the journeys of teachers who erased their proverbial blackboards and started over again. Some families, meanwhile, decided to take the process in-house, with Black households especially embracing homeschooling in unprecedented numbers.
What are universities doing about The Red Zone of campus sexual assaults?
Have you heard of The Red Zone? For many of us, the project by reporters Emma Folts and Mila Sanina was our first introduction to that term for the stretch of time in the fall semester when more than half of sexual assaults among college students occur. The 13-part project investigated what’s being done to protect those at risk of sexual violence on Pittsburgh campuses.
Pittsburgh universities, like many across the country, report few cases of sexual and gender-based violence each year. But these institutions — and their students — know that violence is likely more pervasive than the numbers show. The project included reporting about the Title IX process, survivors’ experiences, essays from Pittsburghers about toxic masculinity, perspectives from young men striving to be part of the solution and more. Read The Red Zone project now.
What would Pittsburgh be like if big nonprofits invested more in the city?
What could Allegheny County’s local municipalities do with an extra $127.5 million — every year? That’s the price tag attached to the region’s five largest nonprofits maintaining tax-exempt status who have billions of dollars of tax-exempt property in their possession, according to the Pittsburgh and county controllers. The controllers called for larger contributions from five large nonprofits: the University of Pittsburgh, UPMC, Carnegie Mellon University, Highmark/AHN and Duquesne University. The Exempt Dilemma took readers from the data to the dormitory. In other cities, colleges contribute millions directly to their cities each year. While the major nonprofits have made investments in Pittsburgh, the controllers maintain the nonprofits give more to the city, and its cash-hungry schools. Read the project, or catch this quick 4-minute recap by Reporter Emma Folts.
Entrenched problems — from aging infrastructure to societal violence — don’t go away when we toss out a calendar or uncork celebratory champagne. Neither will the earnest hunt for hope, solutions and progress. We plan to keep bringing that news to you in 2023 and beyond.
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