SpotlightPA founder Christopher Baxter speaks during the League of Women Voters of Warren County's Sunshine Week event on March 14, 2024. Photo by Brian Hagberg.

LWC of Warren County Hosts SpotlightPA Founder for Sunshine Week Event

March 17, 2024

WARREN, Pa. – The League of Women Voters of Warren County held its annual Sunshine Week program featuring the founding editor of SpotlightPA on Thursday, March 14 at the Warren Public Library.

Christopher Baxter, CEO/President and founding editor of SpotlightPA news, delivered a program titled “A Bold New Path for News” where he described the circumstances that led to SpotlightPA’s creation and some of the impact the outlet has had in its 5-year tenure.

“I am just really excited to see you here today and to engage in a conversation about not just what the news can and should be, but really what it must be for us to continue to be a functioning community, state, and democracy,” Baxter said.

Sunshine Week, March 10-16, is the annual celebration of open government, records, and laws. Baxter said part of what makes SpotlightPA different from other outlets is the way it measures results, which is directly linked to Sunshine Week.

“We judge our success by the impact of our work,” Baxter said. “If you go on our website you’ll see at the top our little tagline ‘journalism that gets results.’ That’s what we are all about. We track the impact of our work across a broad spectrum of indicators, but we want to be relevant. We want to be making waves. We want to be pushing the discussion. We want to be driving solutions. We want to be inspiring people to get involved and enact change.”

Baxter went on to give a brief history of the rise of the digital age and how it impacted what most people considered an untouchable institution.

“There was a period where the newspaper was just always there and an integral part of the community and no one kind of ever questioned whether or not it would it would always be there,” Baxter said.

The meteoric rise of the internet gave people access to a wide variety of media and caused most newspapers to contract.

“So what does contract mean? Well, I don’t need to tell you because you have seen it,” Baxter said. “It’s again, smaller newspaper, less coverage, fewer reporters in your community, less access to information about what’s going on here or what’s going on in the rest of the state, etc.”

That contraction, Baxter said, led to newsrooms losing some of its most important assets.

“The investment in quality work was seriously undercut,” Baxter said. “Investigative work, stuff that takes a lot of time and resources that maybe doesn’t pencil out on the profit books immediately. It meant fewer copy editors, and fewer editors overall. And so now you are starting to consume news that not only has less depth and context in this new digital arena, but maybe it’s not as well written, it’s not as valuable.”

The loss of value is seen most prominently, Baxter said, in an outlet’s ability to report on state and local government. Those institutions that most impact people’s daily lives.

“What happens in the state capitol and what happens on your local town council or school board does directly affect the quality of your life and the quality of your community,” Baxter said. “And by the way, they’re spending the bulk of your tax dollars. And so it’s really, really important to understand what Harrisburg is or is not doing and how that intersects with the well-being of your community and the issues that you care about.”

Baxter was quick to point out that those reporters and editors still left aren’t to blame for the state of the industry.

“The people that are still in the newsrooms that are left and the reporters that are still on the ground, they are working in arguably the harshest conditions that they have ever faced anyone has ever faced in the industry,” Baxter said.

The press’ role in society may be changing, Baxter said, but it’s just as vital as it always was.

“What is the fundamental role journalism must play to continue,” Baxter asked. “And in our estimation, that’s two things. Number one, it is the accountability, the watchdog role. The fourth estate, right, the fourth check and balance on our government. Number two is public service. It’s not just enough to bash people over the head with problems, right? That’s not a pleasant experience for everyone. And it’ll get folks to shut down really quickly. We have to help people understand that they have agency to enact change.”

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