This issue’s Behind the Byline takes a deep dive into Pittsburgh’s nonprofit publication PublicSource, featuring an interview with managing editor Halle Stockton. She shares her journey of becoming a reporter and how her curiosity and passion for sharing information with others drives the truth-seeking and inclusive editorial focus at PublicSource.
What drew you to journalism?
I have been drawn to reporting and writing since early childhood, when I would use a karaoke machine to interview my friends, family and even pets. I enjoyed spreading out the newspaper and going through it with a highlighter while the TV news would play in the background. I was not just a news junkie; I thrived on learning new information and then sharing it with others.
Throughout my school years, I found outlets for my news writing, from the Inkspots and Shorelines newsletters at my Erie elementary and high schools to the occasional spot in my hometown newspaper.
What did your early years in journalism look like?
I attended Penn State University, where I spent most of my time in a basement putting out The Daily Collegian, the independent student newspaper. My first reporting job out of college took me to Florida to work as an enterprise reporter for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Your journey led you to PublicSource. Tell us more about that publication.
For five years, I have served as the managing editor of PublicSource.org — a member-supported, nonprofit newsroom in Pittsburgh.
Our mission is to inspire bold ideas and critical thinking through journalism rooted in facts, diverse voices and the pursuit of transparency. We focus on in-depth and investigative journalism, as well as amplifying the stories of our community members through first-person essays and our new podcast, “From the Source.” Season 1 is focusing on people who are sharing how the coronavirus is impacting them and has already featured a nurse, a small business owner, a high school senior, a food bank employee and a new mom.
When we think about what stories we should pursue, the key ingredients include voices and information that will have a lasting impact on the overarching story of our region.
Do you have a memorable story from your years as a journalist?
In my reporting days at both the Herald-Tribune and PublicSource, my most memorable stories often stemmed from someone either dodging what I found to be common-sense questions or telling me there was no way I would be able to find something out.
I have investigated a prosperity gospel-preaching megachurch that put down roots by a wealthy retirement community, the Depression Era provision that allows thousands of Pennsylvanians with disabilities to be paid less than minimum wage, how elder guardianship can lead to abuse and other crimes, and the questionable use of psychotropics on juvenile offenders.
These are most memorable to me because of the people who could benefit from the information I found and the feedback I got that the stories did help. Determining who is at risk of harm and who should be held accountable is at the heart of PublicSource’s impact-driven journalism.
How has COVID-19 changed the editorial focus?
For the first several weeks of the lockdown, we were solely focused on reporting about the local effects of the coronavirus and put everything else in our editorial plans on hold. We increased our frequency of publication, while still pursuing stories that we think will matter years from now and not just days or hours later.
With the Black Lives Matter movement, we are similarly readjusting the priorities of our team to cover this push for civil rights alongside the ongoing coronavirus concerns. We are journalists in a historic time, and we feel a deep responsibility to deliver on our mission to represent our region.
Speaking of the coronavirus, have you picked up any new hobbies or projects during quarantine?
I’m considering a garden, a deep spring cleaning and a barber lesson, but I have not gotten past just thinking about those things yet. And I think that’s OK. I hope others aren’t feeling too much pressure to go through a renaissance during this stressful time but mostly focus on just finding happiness and stability.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
When not writing, I read, I indulge in some TV and I find a great deal of peace in taking walks around my quiet neighborhood with my husband and dog.
Do you have any tips for organizations or businesses who may like to have story in PublicSource?
Our primary suggestion would be to put what you do in context of a greater issue of interest or concern to the residents of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
To learn more about PublicSource and how you can subscribe or support Pittsburgh’s nonprofit publication, visit the website here.
– Robin Rectenwald, WordWrite