WHYY's Keystone Project On Urban Decline
Philadelphia’s WHYY is taking a solutions-based approach to its new collaborative, multiplatform community journalism project, which explores urban decline and renewal in the Keystone State.
The project, Keystone Crossroads: Rust or Revival?, began June 23 with reporting via radio, television, newspapers, Web and social media. Since funding for the project, a $1.5 million grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, was announced in January, a staff of seven has been hired and partnerships with three other stations — WESA in Pittsburgh, WPSU at Penn State and WITF in Harrisburg — have been established. Pittsburgh’s WQED is an associate partner.
The goal, said Chris Satullo, WHYY vice president of news and civic dialogue, is to examine day-to-day life in Pennsylvania, where four out of 10 residents live in areas declared financially distressed. He said there has been little conversation about these issues in the state, and the timing is crucial, as gubernatorial and state legislative elections are this year.
“No one is talking at the state level about what’s being done,” he says. “We’re digging hard, pulling stats and telling interesting stories of how these issues connect.”
Satullo emphasizes the solutions-based approach to the reporting.
“It has nothing to do with advocacy,” he says. “What we want to do is present people with the best-tried thought and study on how to fix city problems, and capitalize on potential, amenities and positives. There’s great stuff going on. We don’t want to [say], ‘look at these poor people in these crumbling buildings and how awful.’ We’re showing what’s being done.”
Project editor Naomi Starobin said the team is pushing out two to three new elements on the website daily and two to three radio reports each week.
Topics are wide-ranging, and so far, reports have covered craft breweries and revitalization in Allentown and Bethlehem, Pa., the impact of Pennsylvania’s aging population and historic preservation and economic development in Pittsburgh.
Regular features include “Hey, Gov!” where citizens answer the question, “What does the next governor of Pa. need to know about your community?” and “Five Questions with…,” a Q-and-A with individuals involved in urban renewal in the state.
“It’s fun to dive deep into what everyday people think about their community,” Starobin says. Reporters are based at partner stations, and stories
Keystone Crossroads also includes community events, where reporters, some of whom are new to Pennsylvania or to collaborative journalism, talk to people about what’s going on in their lives and communities.
“It’s a way to kick-start reporters to a new beat, to hear what the audience looks like and sounds like,” Satullo says “We want to ground our reporting in that kind of input, from those living the life.”
The project is only a few weeks old and success is difficult to quantify, but Satullo said, first Web reports have exceeded 3,000 views. WHYY and its partner stations are using their own channels and social media to market the project and “build a broader grassroots audience,” he says.
The two-year CPB grant requires tracking many aspects of the project’s reach, including Google Analytics, repeat visits and retweets.
The Keystone Crossroads collaboration extends beyond reporting and into Web hosting of content. The project’s main website is a “mini site” built onto WHYY’s website, Satullo explains. Partner stations are handling traffic and hosting content differently, with some linking to the main Keystone Crossroads site and some hosting the content produced at the station.
Over time, Starobin said the project will add television documentaries, radio specials and interactive content, such as a map of Pennsylvania, designed by a local cartoonist, allowing users to share their perspectives on the state. She said the goal is to maintain the dialogue on solutions to urban decline in Pennsylvania, and the hope is to attract revenue to sustain the project after the grant ends.
“When the two years are up, we’d like to be the leading news source for anyone who cares about city living in Pennsylvania,” Satullo says. “We [also] want to be a part of the conversation nationally about the future of cities.”