Promotional Spotlight Special Edition: Public Source

Promotional Spotlight Special Edition: Public Source

PublicSource expands into podcasts to extend hyper-local coverage during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has fostered a paradigm shift for many news organizations across the country and within Pennsylvania. PublicSource, a non-profit online news outlet that focuses on hyper-local news coverage in the Pittsburgh area, had a similar experience. Mila Sanina, executive director of PublicSource, said that the group’s small team of 12 had been considering podcasts as a part of its coverage for some time. “We were always hearing feedback from our readers such as, ‘I love reading your articles, but I would really like to listen to you – guys, why don’t you have a podcast?’” Sanina said the hesitation to begin a podcast had been in part based on the extensive nature of such a new endeavor and the large commitment that would be necessary to research and implement one.

In 2019, PublicSource was approached by local audio producer Andy Kubis, who was a long-time listener and supporter of the organization. She wanted to help PublicSource get its podcast program started. They had just recorded a test episode when the COVID-19 pandemic began and related sanctions were enacted. It was then that Sanina decided to jumpstart the podcast initiative and “From the Source,” the podcast series, was born.

With five episodes completed to date, From the Source has received tremendously positive feedback from listeners. “There is a real hunger for localized coverage,” said Sanina. “We have a loyal readership and they are loyal to their community – the Pittsburgh region.” Sanina said the podcasts afforded her team the opportunity to explore the effect of COVID-19 in an even more in-depth and personalized manner.

The group uses a framework developed by the Maynard Institute to ensure that a proper cross-section of the community is represented in its podcasts. To date, this has included a healthcare worker, a new mother, a school student and a food bank organizer. Sanina said PublicSource readers want to hear about members of the community that represent not only who they are and the people they know, but also how they are affected and are behaving during the pandemic.

The quick, albeit untrodden path to the creation and development of the podcasts during the pandemic was not without its hiccups and learning curves. “Because of the current stay-at-home order and a lack of a studio, our host, Jourdan Hicks, records her part of it as voice memos on her phone,” said Sanina. “She does it in a closet in her house, with a blanket over her – because we’ve learned that provides the best studio-like sound recording.” Sanina said she feels the work that she, Hicks, Kubis and others on the team do for the podcasts is worth it because it allows the team the newly-found ability to explore through voices the changes that are being brought on by the pandemic.

The listener and community response to From the Source and PublicSource’s coverage during the pandemic has been incredibly positive, Sanina said. She reported that there has been a 20% increase in email subscribers and website traffic has doubled. In addition, PublicSource has received increasing donations from the readership and community organizations as well. “We ask for feedback with our donations,” said Sanina. “We’re getting messages like, ‘The work you’re doing is lifesaving, literally,’ and ‘Pittsburgh needs you. We need you. Thank you for keeping us informed!’” Sanina said this serves to further solidify her steadfast belief that PublicSource is successfully building community connections at a time that it could otherwise be so hard to create them.

Sanina said that the goal of PublicSource is founded on providing public service journalism, and she and her team are constantly looking for new ways to reach readers and gauge what matters most to them. One such way the team has done this is through its involvement in the Facebook accelerator program that began in 2019. When readers ask to subscribe to PublicSource’s newsletter, they receive a personalized message from the publication’s environment and health reporter, Oliver Morrison, that asks questions such as: What important issues are you not seeing other outlets cover? What perspectives are you not hearing? Are there ways of presenting information that would help you in your life?”

Sanina and many other members of the organization come from traditional newsrooms. The work they do for PublicSource has forced them to grow and develop in themselves and their approach to their roles there. “We have come from a place were we think we know the story,” said Sanina, “Here we have learned that we don’t always – sometimes those stories are not the ones that the readers are looking for – there is something deeper or different.”

When asked about the future of From the Source and PublicSource, both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanina said she thinks it is important to recognize how fundamentally different this time in history is for the community and likewise for news organizations. “I think we need to remember this is not the usual breaking news story – this isn’t a shooting, this isn’t a hurricane or a blizzard – we need to look ahead and try to determine how we can best serve people, while not being reactive,” said Sanina. “I think this crisis will bring back faith in good journalism, based on science and facts, as well as accurate narratives and story-telling – where it has been undermined so much in the recent past.”

For additional information, contact Mila Sanina at 412-515-0061 or