News

A Pittsburgh-area resource and the woman leading it: an interview with Mila Sanina, the executive director of Publicsource

BY JOYCE ROTHERMEL

Do you care about facts and find it hard to know when the media is presenting the truth? Well, you are very fortunate if you know about and are a current subscriber to PublicSource, the Pittsburgh-investigative reporting website.

I recently had the privilege of witnessing the award presentation by the Johnston Leadership Institute at the Graduate School for Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, for an Emerging Leader, to Mila Sanina, the Executive Director of PublicSource. Both her story and her work inspire. She agreed to an interview for The New People.

Question: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mila: I came to Pittsburgh in 2008 to pursue a master’s degree at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. I had a few jobs outside of Pittsburgh, lived in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Ga., and then settled in Pittsburgh.

Question: What is your background in journalism?

Mila: It’s to my grandmother that I, in a way, owe my passion for journalism. She never finished high school, but she loved reading and was phenomenal at Morse code. She interpreted and transcribed messages coming from the battlefields of World War II. She wasn’t really a reporter, but she knew the value of knowledge and information and she instilled that in me. I was born in the Soviet Union, in the time of Gorbachev,known as “perestroika.” Many great writers lived in the Soviet Union back then, but not many journalists survived in the world built on propaganda. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a lot of things have changed. In the independent country of Kazakhstan, my home, just being a journalist remains a dangerous profession. It is remarkable that there are still people with courage who continue doing good work; they know what’s important – it’s facts, not what you think about them.

I worked in Central Asia as a freelance journalist for a short period of time, but the stakes of reporting were way too high there, so I decided to go into policy and that’s how I ended up at Pitt. While at Pitt, I co-founded a graduate student journal and my passion for writing, editing, discovering through interviews and learning somehow refused to be stifled. I ended up, first, interning and then freelancing as an international assignment editor at CNN International. Then I became a desk assistant at PBS NewsHour and shortly after came back to Pittsburgh, where I joined the Pittsburgh PostGazette. I was there for 5 years. My last job at the PG was deputy managing editor.

Question: When did PublicSource begin?

Mila: PublicSource began in 2011 as a program of Pittsburgh Filmmakers. It was defined as an investigative news organization to provide Pennsylvania citizens with in-depth information. At the end of 2015, PublicSource became an independent nonprofit. I joined PublicSource in 2016 and together with my supportive board, at the time a small but mighty team, we refocused our mission and expanded our programming. In this short period of time, we tripled our audience.There are now hundreds of people supporting PublicSource with donations and our team includes ten people who work hard, who have an incredible drive, and keep meaningful local journalism alive here in the Pittsburgh region.

We are lucky to be working in a community that has a lot of media outlets, some of which still manage to produce good work under dwindling resources, so we have a luxury of not duplicating stories but rather doing the type of journalism that is unique. When you read PublicSource, hopefully you see the value of it and the direct impact on your life. We focus on local journalism that drives change, sometimes makes people uncomfortable and invites them to understand their neighbors better. We approach local journalism as a public service.

Question: What do you believe are the three main issues facing the Pittsburgh community?

Mila: Education is number one. It’s a question about how we, as a community, ensure that we are preparing our kids for the future that will be hotter, more complex and more diverse. We write about how we are supporting parents, especially mothers, in making sure they have resources to realize their own potential and equip their kids, independent of their race or background.

Development: The how and why of economic development is definitely the biggest issue we have been grappling with as a community and it will be a hot topic for many years to come. This big question is what kind of a community does Pittsburgh want to be? Do we, as a city, have a unified vision for urban design, transportation and economic opportunities that Pittsburgh would like to sustain and maybe attract? These are difficult questions. We have a lot of stakeholders and somehow as a city and, specifically, we as journalists need to do a better job in informing people how development is happening, what models have been working elsewhere. Infrastructure and climate change: I know these are two but these are interlinked; just think about seismic shifts that are happening in this country right now… fires, floods, hurricanes….

Question: What are your plans for the growth of PublicSource in terms of readership?

Mila: We hope to reach more people and become a destination for serious local reporting and analysis in the Pittsburgh region. We are also hoping to become a financially sustainable newsroom that is 100% community supported. Trust should be the number one priority in journalism, and membership is a great way to sustain trust. It’s important to differentiate between subscription and membership. Subscribers pay money to get a product (i.e. access to a website or getting a paper for example.) Members join our (journalistic) cause. Good content is still the key, with experienced and hard-working journalists who cover stories that no one else touches. with passion, context and rigor so they make you care. PublicSource always welcomes contribution from readers, stories, their tips, their expertise.

Please tell our readers how they can subscribe to PublicSource.

We are an online only publication, although we have more than a dozen print partners across Pennsylvania who are welcome to republish our content. The best way to follow our work is to sign up for our newsletter at https://www.publicsource.org/newsletter-signup/ and develop a habit of visiting our website at PublicSource. org. We now publish a new story every day. If you have a story to share, you should pitch it to us. If you believe in local journalism and would like to support PublicSource’s mission, now is the time to do it.

Joyce Rothermel is on the Advisory Board of the Johnson Leadership Institute.

 PublicSource is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, digital-first media organization dedicated to serving Pittsburgh and the region. We provide public-service reporting and analysis, convene communities of shared interests and connect civically engaged citizens with local decision makers.

We listen. We investigate. We tell in-depth stories for a better Pittsburgh.

Our principles

  1. PublicSource presents a bold vision for local journalism in the Pittsburgh region. Fearless. Truth-seeking. Responsible. Inclusive. The news you consume does not have to be just traffic, weather, shootings or sports. We deliver nuanced local coverage through our website, our weekly digest, social media accounts and through partners’ platforms.
  2. PublicSource’s agenda is to engage and inform residents of the Pittsburgh region on the most pressing issues that are having a real impact on people’s lives. We present facts and narratives that are informed by those facts. We analyze issues with a mind toward the future, toward successful models and solutions; we look to the history to find root causes for present-day problems and write with outcomes and impact in mind.
  3. PublicSource believes journalism is public service, and readers’ trust is the most valuable asset we have. Our fact-checking system is robust and thorough. We seek readers’ input because we cannot know everything and we don’t pretend to.
  4. We are not liberal or conservative. We are independent and abide by ethics principles adopted by the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN).
  5. PublicSource does not churn out clickbait. It delivers thoughtful journalism, which works for regular people who may not have resources to investigate things on their own.
  6. PublicSource does not only inform, it also engages with communities of shared interests through events. You can keep up with our latest events here.
  7. PublicSource is committed to being the platform for the community, easy to access and proactive rather than reactive. There is no paywall or exclusivity. We make our journalism available to you, and to media partners, because we believe informed and engaged citizens will make decisions that improve our region.
  8. PublicSource stands for evidence-based, accountable local journalism. PublicSource believes that thoughtful local journalism is essential to a smarter, better Pittsburgh region.
  9. PublicSource invites people to share their narratives on publicsource.org. It works with people in an effort to provide a platform for people who typically aren’t being heard, people who are not just ‘newsmakers’ or ‘trend-setters’ but those who do not always get a microphone to share their experiences.
  10. PublicSource advocates for government transparency and serves as a watchdog to hold those in power to account. We seek to spread knowledge and truth.
  11. PublicSource retains full authority over editorial content to protect the best journalistic interests of our organization. Acceptance of financial support does not constitute implied or actual endorsement of donors or their products, services or opinions. We don’t sell out.
  12. PublicSource is innovation-driven and experimental in its work and spirit. We are a digital-first newsroom and we want our journalism not only to be relevant to you, but also userfriendly, appealing and surprising.

 

(TMC newspaper VOL.48 No.10 December 2018. All rights reserved)

Categories: News

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