Spotlight PA plans to launch Berks County bureau after residents say local governments need more scrutiny

Groundbreaking study finds nearly three-quarters of participants rate access to local news as “extremely important”

Berks County residents are extremely frustrated with the diminished capacity of the local newspaper and they are concerned about a lack of access to trustworthy information in their community, according to a groundbreaking study by Spotlight PA.

Nearly three-quarters of the more than 1,000 residents who participated in the research identified access to local news as “extremely important” to them. They said the most pressing need was more reporting to keep local governments honest and accountable.

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The “Blueprint for Berks,” a 12-month community research project by Spotlight PA released today, engaged Berks residents in a series of local discussions and an expansive survey to identify information gaps, coverage needs, and news preferences in the local market.

In response to the findings, Spotlight PA — an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit newsroom in Pennsylvania — is planning to launch a new regional reporting bureau in Berks County to be supported primarily by people living and working in the region.

The journalism produced by the new bureau will be freely available as a public resource to all in the community, and other local organizations can republish it at no cost. Spotlight PA has already partnered with Berks Community Television, Berks Weekly, WEEU, and WFMZ.

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The newsroom must raise at least $500,000 annually for the first three years by Dec. 31 to proceed. Local foundations have offered potential contributions of $350,000 per year, and Spotlight PA is seeking other foundations, individuals, and corporations to join the effort.

To learn more and get involved, visit spotlightpa.org/berks.

A Berks County reporting bureau would be the second launched by Spotlight PA since its formation in 2019. The first, based in State College and covering north-central Pennsylvania, has consistently delivered unique, relevant, and impactful reporting for the region as well as for Spotlight PA’s statewide audience and newsroom partners.

“The excitement, engagement, and generosity shown to date around the prospect of a Spotlight PA bureau in Berks County has been overwhelming and remarkable,” said Spotlight PA CEO & President Christopher Baxter. “These next few months will prove critical to raising additional local financial support to ensure this region of the state has the vital investigative and public-service journalism it needs and deserves.”

News coverage in Berks County has suffered since the Reading Eagle was sold in 2019 to a media group owned by a hedge fund with a reputation for cutbacks and layoffs.

Community members were extremely forthcoming in their participation in the study, said Heather Adams, Spotlight PA’s Berks County project lead. They expressed frustration with the lack of investment in the newspaper, showed a passion for local journalism, and said they were aware of “what they are not getting” from existing coverage, she said.

“This study underscores the essential role of local journalism,” said Adams, the executive director and managing editor of Berks Community Television (BCTV), who took a temporary leave from her job to lead the project. “It is crucial to ensure that local issues are explored and local voices are heard across Berks County. It was a rewarding opportunity to engage residents in crafting this plan.”

This comprehensive study provides valuable insights into the current news and information needs in Berks County and the role of journalism in fostering community engagement, enhancing public discourse, and strengthening democratic processes. Addressing those needs, according to the study, will require collaboration between Spotlight PA and other community organizations to provide as much coordinated local coverage as possible.

The study comes at a critical time as communities across Pennsylvania and the country seek out reliable and relevant sources of information in the face of the rapid deterioration of legacy newspapers. Spotlight PA’s research provides a blueprint for an efficient model of sustaining and supporting journalism efforts statewide and locally, connected by shared infrastructure, fundraising, and business and support services.

The yearlong study was made possible by a planning grant from Berks County Community Foundation, and was guided by an advisory committee of local residents and community leaders from across the county.

If you are interested in bringing Spotlight PA to your community, want access to its journalism for republication, or want more information about the Berks County study, please contact Skyler Cruz at operations@spotlightpa.org.

The study is now available for download at Spotlight PA Berks Project Report

To support the Berks bureau, visit spotlightpa.org/donate/berks

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Berks Weekly
Berks Weekly
Berks Weekly is an independent and locally owned digital newspaper covering the City of Reading and Berks County. Subscribe today: berksweekly.com/subscribe
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