When Greg Moore was let go from the Charleston (W.V.) Gazette-Mail after 20 years, the former editor wasn’t shocked. For him, it was no secret that the media industry was struggling financially, and journalists are often being let go. But Moore didn’t wallow in any self-pity.
Instead, he and other former Gazette-Mail journalists, Ken Ward Jr. and Eric Eyre, went back to work and created Mountain State Spotlight, a “civic news organization that tells stories of importance to West Virginians about the issues and challenges facing their communities,” according to its website (mountainstatespotlight.org).
“We had been talking about doing something like this at the newspaper, starting an investigative hub with some Report for America core members that could be—over the next couple of years—transitioned to a nonprofit entity,” Moore said.
Mountain State Spotlight began operations on June 1 but officially launched on Sept. 17. The organization had published several stories and weekly newsletters in the months that led up to the launch. In September, they launched with five stories but are planning to publish at least three a week for now. The goal is to publish five stories a week in the future.
Mountain State Spotlight will focus on areas including public health threats, economic development challenges, environmental issues and government accountability. Moore explained that Ward has a long career reporting on the environment so it was inherent that this be an area of focus, and because Eyre won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for his work exposing Big Pharma’s role in the opioid crisis, health was also given priority. Whatever the topic may be, the goal is to hold people accountable.
The nonprofit is supported by donations and three national backers: Report for America, American Journalism Project (AJP) and ProPublica. Report for America provided four reporters and AJP provided $125,000 in funding and matched donations over $10,000 through the end of September. ProPublica pays Ward’s salary. According to its website, Mountain State Spotlight is becoming an independent 501(c)(3) group and has plans to build philanthropic support.
The lack of advertising opportunities for news publishers was a main factor that led the organization to choose the nonprofit path. However, start-ups tend to face their own challenges such as a lack of brand recognition among communities. Additionally, as a digital publication, the rural areas and poor internet conditions in the state are challenges facing Mountain State Spotlight. To combat this, the organization encourages other news publishers to use and share their content.
“It’s a way to inform West Virginians who are aren’t in the habit of checking a website or social media to see what they latest story is,” Moore said. “It also gets our name out there and hopefully we gain some supporters that way.”