By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
About a year ago, I asked our readers and those who appreciate the content we produce to help us get through the COVID-19 pandemic by considering a one-time or sustaining donation to the Pittsburgh Current.
It’s been a year since we were all locked down and for publications like ours, revenue streams dried up. So now, as the recovery for individuals and businesses continue, we are asking for help again. You can donate at our fundraising partner’s website, Commit Change.
This is a hard time for all media companies. In fact, at this moment, there are about a half dozen news outlets seeking donations. Every one of them is worthy of your money. There seems to be a misconception that just because we locked down with a snap of a finger that we can all just pick up where we left off. But for us and others, it’s not anywhere close to that simple. A lot of the businesses that we depended on for advertising revenues are either hurting financially too or they don’t exist anymore.
As an influence-free, independent media company, your donation would go a long way to helping us continue the work we’ve been doing.
But unlike a lot of businesses, when COVID-19 meant less work for most businesses, it meant triple the workload for us because it created new stories for us to follow. Add to that, the protests around the death of George Floyd and the violent actions of police locally and a national election–we were all pretty busy. But I want to focus on the Current.
We are an extremely small staff with a small group of contributors who have committed to doing the job because it needed done. Chief among that group is Brittany Hailer, Mary Niederberger, Jake Mysliwczyk and Jody DiPerna, an incredible writer and friend who joined me as a freelancer on Day 1 and has been here ever since. Our goal is to tell stories that no one else is telling and find the stories that need covered and bring them into the light. Here is just a small sampling of what we accomplished in this very trying 12 months.
Brittany Hailer told two separate stories about one very real problem — racism next door. She told you the stories of Thomas Drake and Flecia Harvey. They both faced racial harassment, very severe in some cases, from neighbors. Hailer also wrote about gender-affirming parenting (allowing a child to figure out what gender they are without labeling them at birth). She also took an in-depth look into the unnecessary death of Daniel Pastorek at the Allegheny County Jail.
Speaking of the Allegheny County Jail, covering the goings on at the facility during COVID-19 was our main priority last year. We listened to sources inside the jail, we talked and are still talking to those incarcerated people who are stuck in a facility that many claim is not doing all it can to protect them from the virus. In fact, we wrote an average of one story per week on the jail. It’s a situation that needed and still needs reporters looking into it. Since we started regularly covering the jail last March, other media outlets began covering it as well and that’s a positive for the people locked up inside. Aside from the COVID-19 issue, we also reported on the banning of outside books at the jail. That action led to this in-depth look at the jail library, or lack thereof, by our Jody DiPerna.
Diperna and History Professor Elaine Frantz researched and wrote the most complete story of police violence against Black Citizens in the Pittsburgh area dating back to the 1850s. That piece also featured amazing work from writers Deesha Philyaw and Caitlyn Hunter.
We were also committed to covering the protests seeking a change to a systematically racist justice system that allows Black people to be routinely gunned down by police. Many contributed to this coverage but the work of Jake Mysliwczyk, Dannys Marrero and Ed Thompson really stood out. And our coverage didn’t stop at the protests. We continue to write about Black protesters who are seriously jammed up in the criminal justice system and how how differently they are treated from white rioters both locally and at the Capitol. Also, to me, Caitlyn Hunter’s coverage of the Dannielle Brown‘s hunger strike over the death of her son was second to none.
Education Writer Mary Niederberger tirelessly covered how COVID-19 affected Pittsburgh Public Schools, and how some districts with few to no resources figured out how to educate their students in this new reality. She also reported on worsening performance gaps between Back students and white students 14 years after the district promised to fix the issue. Finally, the Current ran Niederberger’s story about how ESL students were being left behind in virtual education. The issue was addressed within a week of story publication.
Add to that, Alona Williams’ piece about the racism she encountered at a Writer’s House Residency, our coverage of racist social media tweets from police officers and political candidates, a weekly climate column from Larry Schweiger and a weekly essay from the very talented Matthew Wallenstein.
Much like it did last year, the situation also forced us to re-examine how we allocate resources and how we present the news. When we stopped printing a physical paper, we moved to a weekly digital edition format. As of last week we are ceasing the production of our digital issue and taking all of our content to our website. This change will also involve some new features and, starting April 1, a three-times weekly newsletter. We will also be launching a system to purchase web and newsletter ads without having to speak to a sales rep. Also, by the first part of April we will be making a major announcement about future plans.
Let me be clear, though, we are not going anywhere as long as there are stories that need reported and voices that need heard. I am very proud of the work that we have done this past year and we need some financial assistance to help keep us going. We believe our work has made an impact in the past year and there are still many more issues to tackle.