Pittsburgh Today traces its roots to a 1995 meeting at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Special Projects reporter Douglas Heuck requested a meeting with Editor John G. Craig Jr. about the possibility of starting a new project. Given that Pittsburgh was still mired in a malaise brought on by the collapse of steel more than a decade earlier, Heuck suggested that, with its large circulation and hundreds of journalists, the newspaper should create a project that would help get Pittsburgh on a more ascendant trajectory. Craig agreed and said he had been considering projects in the Silicon Valley and Boston, which used statistics to chart those regions’ progress over time. Heuck suggested that such a project could be augmented by narrative journalism and that the newspaper could also hold roundtable discussions with leaders in various disciplines and get their opinions on what Pittsburgh needed to do to chart a new and more successful course.
The project — known at PG Benchmarks — ultimately combined both approaches. Heuck consulted experts in the topics of the arts, economy, education, environment, government, health, public safety and transportation about what measures the newspaper should use. Heuck and Craig ultimately chose about 75 main measures and launched the benchmarking project, which contained those statistical indicators as well as narrative journalism and roundtable discussions with regional leaders. The project continued until Heuck left the paper to start Pittsburgh Quarterly magazine and Craig retired.
At about that time, Craig and Paul O’Neill met with Chancellor Mark Nordenberg of the University of Pittsburgh and President Jared Cohon of Carnegie Mellon University to propose that their universities jointly support an 18-month study on the feasibility of establishing a regional indicator system for Greater Pittsburgh. O’Neill, while secretary of the treasury, was involved in initial meetings under the auspices of the GAO and the National Academies to establish a national indicator program. Visit The State of the USA.
Meetings were held with numerous organizations to determine the scope of the project and the indicators. The spring and summer of 2006 were devoted to bringing more precision to the research being performed by the indicator topic committees, obtaining additional funding for the design and launch of a web site. These efforts culminated in the launch of pittsburghtoday.org in November and with it a new regional organization. The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research, which had provided administrative support since the first meetings with the university presidents, led the way in data organization. Site development was the work of ThoughtForm, the Pittsburgh communications consultancy and design firm.
In June 2010, Douglas Heuck was appointed Program Director, after Mr. Craig’s unexpected passing the previous month. Under Heuck’s leadership, the project expanded its use of narrative journalism to augment the several hundred statistical indicators already published.
And since 2010, Pittsburgh Today has brought a combined approach of gathering and publishing regional indicators with in-depth explanatory journalism to bring this information journalism about the region’s future to a larger audience.