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.
In late 2003, 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.
On October 17, 2004, Pittsburgh Today held a daylong meeting of representatives of the many organizations with which it had been working, as well as representatives of the university, foundation and nonprofit community, to report on its investigations. It was proposed that the local effort start small with the organization of four initial topic area committees: Economics, Health, Environment and Demographics. The fundamental decisions about how to choose an indicator were also made at that time.
The response to these proposals was generally positive and in December, 2004, Pittsburgh Today agreed to proceed. In doing so, it established procedures to get the committees up and running, to raise additional funding and to expand into other topic areas. A number of partner organizations came on board at that time and have been involved in the project going forward.
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.
After 14 months, January 2008 brought a review of every aspect of the operation in concert with the foundations that had underwritten the project. Part of that was a reworking of the web site under the direction of 3 Rivers Connect which had been retained to manage the organization and presentation of data and indicators.
In September of 2009, major changes again occurred. Community leaders and the foundation community agreed to expand the organizing committee, hire Mr. Craig as Program Director, house the Regional Indicators in the offices of 3rc, where it would be a strategic program, and make major updates in the web site’s functionality and design. 3rc supervised these changes, retaining two local companies, DeepLocal and Active Interface for specialized services.
In June 2010, Douglas Heuck was appointed Program Director, after Mr.’s Craig’s unexpected passing the previous month. Within a few months, Heuck returned Pittsburgh Today to the Unversity Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR) at the University of Pittsburgh.
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.