Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism turns two years old

By Brittany Hailer

I started considering that PINJ was turning two in the wee hours of a maternity leave morning, and realized that my co-founder, Jody DiPerna, and I are not the best at patting ourselves on the back. But, I want to acknowledge the hard work of establishing and developing this young newsroom as well as your generous support that got us here.

PINJ has investigated and reported stories that have been recognized both nationally and regionally: the uncounted deaths and lack of accountability of prisoners who died following their incarceration in the Allegheny County Jail. 

This series of stories won Best Investigation in Division 3 at the Western Pennsylvania Press Club in the 59th Golden Quills Awards, Best Investigation for Small Division in the national 2022 Nonprofit News Awards, and Honorable Mention for Division 1 Best Investigation in the statewide awards by the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association. We are honored and grateful for the recognition. 

Allegheny v Hailer, our public records request turned court case, is our effort to make autopsies public in Allegheny county and beyond. In December 2020, I filed the request with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law. I sought the autopsy and toxicology report for Daniel Pastorek, an incarcerated person who died at the county jail in November 2020. 

After a series of appeals, that request awaits a decision from the Commonwealth Court. We are being represented by Paula Knudsen Burke and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. You can hear more about our case on both WESA’s The Confluence and City Cast Pittsburgh.

Recently, PINJ and Penn Live were funded by the Pulitzer Center to create a database which will track jail deaths in all 67 counties in Pennsylvania. A project that Penn Live’s Joshua Vaughn will partner with us to produce. 

In the past year, we broke other stories that had a direct impact, including PINJ’s investigation into a doctor contracted with the Allegheny County Jail who lost his medical license in several states. The doctor was fired from Allegheny Health Network minutes after our publication.

PINJ partnered with Spotlight PA and justice reporter Danielle Ohl in a months-long investigation into the Pennsylvania criminal competency system which traps people with serious mental illness behind bars. That collaboration was made possible by the Pittsburgh Media Partnership

Since our founding, PINJ has also expanded its community events and outreach, thanks to the incomparable Jody DiPerna. (Seriously, none of this would have been possible without her.) In addition to her ongoing coverage of regional books and writers, she has worked to create a platform for these necessary voices. 

DiPerna’s dedication to uplifting voices from Pittsburgh, Western Pennsylvania and Northern Appalachia has turned into a research project about Appalachian literature and how writers and readers are transforming the region. Her book is under contract with WVU Press. 

She has also built bridges to create space for Pittsburghers to come together to share and discuss books and films of interest to us. With the showing of Sylvia Ryerson’s film, “Calls from Home,” and our roundtable discussion afterwards, we partnered with City of Asylum to bring the film and the discussion to both live and virtual audiences. We’ve recently partnered with the Battle of Homestead Foundation to show the film “Mighty Harlan County,” a brilliant documentary about labor struggles in the coalfields of central Appalachia and have a robust discussion with filmmaker, Jared Hamilton. 

PINJ has formed partnerships with Belt Magazine and Pittsburgh Independent. We are working on stories that we can better tell together, pooling resources to serve Pittsburgh and the broader region. 

This is just the beginning of what we hope will be more community-driven, community-engaging events which will help us talk about the place we live, where it is now and where we want it to go. 

Our internship program continues to grow. The University of Pittsburgh English Department has funded an internship position for the summer at PINJ. Senior Ebonee Rice-Nguyen, will be joining us to work on our jail deaths project. Additionally, through the continued generosity and support of the Pittsburgh Media Partnership, we will also be joined this summer by Slippery Rock University senior Matthew Glover. Last year’s intern through the PMP, Point Park University senior Jake Dabkowski, completed an excellent investigation into the Allegheny County Jail’s kitchen healthcode violations. 

PINJ has been made possible by funding from The Grable Foundation, The Google News Equity Fund, The Pittsburgh Media Partnership, The Pulitzer Center, and by donations from our readers. When we look back at what has been made possible as a result of this generosity, we are humbled. Pittsburgh wants and needs good, thorough, and independent news. We are committed to contributing to the media ecosystem through both collaboration, mentorship, and good-old fashioned digging.

In year three, we will keep doing what we do well, but we also have a few ideas for expanding our coverage in ways that will further serve this community. 

Please consider donating to us so that we can continue our mission to fill in news gaps and bring communities together in our region.

Thank you, Pittsburgh! 

Brittany Hailer

Director of the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism