Spotlight PA launches State College office to bolster local news


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The middle of the Keystone State is not lacking in natural beauty, charming towns and fascinating people. This region is home to the darkest skies east of the Mississippi; tons of hiking trails and scenic views; and Penn State University, one of the largest and most influential employers in the Commonwealth.

But what it lacks is sufficient independent investigative and public service journalism, which is why Spotlight PA – together with the Center Daily Times and other local partners – has been working for more than a year on a historic effort to bolster local news here.

Today, I’m proud to announce the launch of our first regional news bureau, based at State College and reporting on northern and central Pennsylvania. And we’ve already walked out the door with a vital, in-depth story about drinking water contamination in Benner Township.

When we decided to build the office, we knew our communities needed more journalists on the ground. After all, independent, non-partisan journalism is essential to the health of our region and our democracy. We have therefore assembled a team with a mix of local experience and outside perspective, varied skills and, above all, a commitment to high quality public service journalism.

Our team of four journalists will have the time, resources and mandate to dig deeper into the region’s issues – and we can do that with the support of readers. Help us take the first step toward a new future for journalism in Pennsylvania and make this first regional office a success by becoming a founding donor now at

As a bonus, all gifts from founding donors will be matched up to $200,000 thanks to a generous matching gift from the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

When you support our journalism, you directly strengthen our team of journalists on the ground who fight for information and accountability every day.

Ashad Hajela, Rural Affairs Journalist joins the office through Spotlight PA’s first-ever partnership with Report for America (RFA). Ashad covers day-to-day issues affecting rural communities in north-central Pennsylvania, including agriculture, climate change, housing, health care, public services, criminal justice, and education.

Wyatt Massey, an investigative journalist specializing in Penn State, previously worked in the Bible Belt as a religious reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press via RFA. Wyatt plans to focus on Penn State’s influence on the region and the inner workings of the university.

Local accountability reporter Min Xian has covered state and local government, changing communities, and rural issues in central and northern Pennsylvania for the past five years as a WPSU reporter. For the office, Min focuses on issues such as how our taxes are spent and how our cities are run.

And I’m Sarah Rafacz, editor and Center County native. I’ve worked in local news at State College for the past seven years, most recently as editor of State College Magazine. (And I started my career at the Center Daily Times copy desk.)

We recognize the important responsibility we have as journalists to bring to light the issues facing our region and to cover these issues with care and determination in a spirit of fairness.

Whether you live on a farm or in a village, in a college town or a city, you have the right to reliable information about your community. Everyone should see their life, triumphs and challenges reflected in the news. And everyone deserves to be served by a trustworthy watchdog who isn’t afraid to expose the wrongdoings of influential people and institutions.

All of our work is available free to our media partners across the state – led by Center Daily Times and others in the North Central Pennsylvania region. Additionally, our stories are available on a new dedicated website for the region,

Sarah Rafacz is Spotlight PA’s State College Regional Office Editor.