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One Penn graduate is looking to combat the decline in local media and the lack of government accountability.

Jimmy Tobias, a 2010 College graduate, recently launched Honest Appalachia, a watchdog website that offers whistleblowers an anonymous platform to release sensitive information on government and corporate wrongdoing.

It covers seven states in the Appalachian region, Pennsylvania included.

Tobias, one of the four founders, hopes the website will provide state government accountability.

“The site was founded in response to the decline in regional journalists who [once] acted as traditional watchdogs,” he said.

“We witnessed the WikiLeaks trajectory and the power of what they were doing on an international scale. We thought a whistleblowing site on a state level would be best suited,” he added.

The website, which launched a month ago, has published little information on government wrongdoing as of yet. Tobias nevertheless anticipates the venture will be a success.

“The biggest risk of being a whistleblower is finding a trusted institution that will protect your identity,” he said. “We have a website that is very secure, and not even we know who the whistleblowers are.”

Victor Pickard, an assistant professor at the Annenberg School for Communication, agreed. He wrote in an email that projects such as Honest Appalachia can play a valuable role, particularly in local areas that receive little media coverage.

“In theory, at least, digital media should lead to opportunities for greater transparency,” he wrote.

Dylan Blaylock, a spokesperson at the Government Accountability Project ­— a non-profit organization for whistleblowers — agreed that Honest Appalachia has a role to fill.

“I think there’s wrongdoing at all levels of government,” he said. “For every government, more independent scrutiny will lead to more public change.”

While journalists such as Tobias feel that independent watchdogs are crucial to maintain public trust in government, others are skeptical of their value. Governor Tom Corbett, for instance, is skeptical of Tobias’ new website.

“You can say anything you want when you’re anonymous,” Corbett said in a radio interview with “If you say something, stand behind it.”

Brooks Jackson, the director of, was also unconvinced by the anonymous reporting model.

“I hope it doesn’t become more common,” he said. “It encourages irresponsibility, and many of these groups have their own agendas.”

Tobias claims that Honest Appalachia is non-partisan and has high standards of journalistic integrity. On his blog, he highlighted how the current “war on whistleblowers” highlights the need for secure, anonymous websites for whistleblowers to publish their work.

Some believe watchdog sites such as Honest Appalachia are needed during a time of flux in local traditional media outlets.

“The corporatization of local outlets has made them more of an engine for profit,” Tobias said.

Blaylock said that there has been a decline in investigative journalism throughout the media due to declining revenues. “Investigative reports are cut over shorter, quicker reports.”

He added that the internet and online news has impacted investigative journalism. “The internet has opened new reporting models,” he said. “Maybe they will grow at the state level.”

“It’s so much easier for people to go to the internet and find news. So it would follow logically that smaller media organizations would go down.”

Jackson voiced similar concerns about the future of investigative journalism. “Reporters are being laid off in drones now,” he said. “We haven’t found a viable business model that will sustain reporting yet.”

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