Twenty years ago, when newspapers were strong, the coin of the realm for ambitious reporters was winning awards. A slightly caricatured general rule was: The more intractable, insoluble and depressing the issue you wrote about, the more awards you’d win. Newspapers were in the business of problems, not solutions.
In 1995, I marked 10 years in Pittsburgh. I had three young children, and it looked as if I’d be here for awhile. The trouble with that scenario was that Pittsburgh wasn’t doing well. Attempts to rebound after the massive job losses of the early 1980s had stalled. And despite widespread efforts, the region remained mired in malaise.
I had grown tired of depressing people with my newspaper series and, regarding Pittsburgh, the old saying came to mind, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” So I knocked on the door of Post-Gazette Editor John Craig with an idea. The newspaper had nearly 200 journalists and a circulation of almost 500,000. Why not harness that power to help get Pittsburgh on a more ascendant trajectory?
The idea was an anomaly in those days—veering towards the controversial concept of “community journalism”—but John liked it, and we created what we called PG Benchmarks, a project comparing the Pittsburgh region with 14 others in 75 statistical measures. I wrote stories to accompany the stats, and we had round table discussions with regional leaders focusing on solving problems.
Our findings weren’t surprising. Pittsburgh was a nice place to live if you had a job. We were strong in the arts, low in crime, and low in traffic congestion. But those early bench marking reports showed serious economic weakness. We were perennially among the worst regions for job growth and many other economic measures. More people moved out of Pittsburgh than moved in. And the story of continuing decline played out with stubborn monotony year after year. What a truly remarkable difference between then and now. Now, Pittsburgh’s economy is a national example of strength and diversification, thanks largely to the energy, finance, education and medical sectors—and the efforts of countless people over 25 years to renew Pittsburgh. Now, more people are moving here than leaving. And though we still attract relatively few people from abroad, the percentage of our immigrants who are highly educated is the highest in the country.
This issue is all about Greater Pittsburgh and its future. For the second year in a row, we are publishing Pittsburgh Today & Tomorrow, the annual report on how Pittsburgh is doing compared with 14 other regions. In “retirement,” John Craig started Pittsburgh Today as an improvement of our old benchmarking efforts. He did it with Paul O’Neill’s help, and support from foundations.
If you want to understand the region’s most important issues and the facts about how we’re doing, please read Pittsburgh Today & Tomorrow, which starts on page 77. Written by Jeffery Fraser, the report shows our strengths and weaknesses as no other journalistic project does; and if you want greater detail, please visit pittsburghtoday.org. We have also asked regional leaders to give their thoughts about how we can continue to improve Greater Pittsburgh.
Finally, the second part of our package on this region’s future focuses on the Power of 32, the 32-county effort to envision and then forge a dynamic future. This includes a report by Pittsburgh Quarterly and a 16-page special section produced by the Power of 32. This special section highlights the key projects targeted to improve the future of Greater Pittsburgh by 2025. If we, as a region, continue to build on our strengths and shore up our weaknesses, there’s no reason why the next 13 years can’t see as much dramatic improvement as the last 13 have.