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CMI Director, Andrew Conte, works toward elevating journalism everywhere

By Zoey Angelucci

Andrew Conte’s start in journalism was so weak that his high school advisor didn’t even give him a participation pin at the end of the year because he wasn’t active enough.

Many years later, that same teacher learned Conte, a Greensburg native, had morphed into an award-winning investigative reporter who has also spent his life figuring out the future of American journalism, she was mystified.

“I started (journalism) in high school,” said Conte. “I worked on the high school newspaper, but I did such a terrible job that the advisor at the end of the year senior year would give out pins to everyone who worked on the paper; she didn’t give me a pin because I wasn’t involved enough.”

From that meager start in high school, Andrew Conte has become an award-winning investigative journalist and the mastermind behind Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation, a far-thinking organization at Point Park University where he hopes to develop the future of journalism.

Andrew Conte, Director of the CMI

Photo Credit: Point Park University Website

Years down the road, after discovering his journalistic success, that same teacher discovered Conte’s success in investigative journalism and regretted her actions on the lack of pin-giving.

When Conte went to college for his undergrad, he had planned on preparing for a legal career. As he began to work on the college newspaper, he found a calling to journalism.

“I felt a calling for what we could do in journalism by speaking up for people who don’t have a voice and holding power accountable,” said Conte. “You can contribute in a positive way to the overall health of your community by being a journalist.”

Conte grew up in Pittsburgh, specifically the Greensburg Area. After graduating from Greensburg-Salem High School, Conte majored in American Studies with a minor in Russian language and English at Dickinson College.

Conte’s work history started with a job with Jack Anderson, a well-known columnist muckraker. This started off as an unpaid internship. However, Conte and his parents realized that he would need to get some type of paid position. After some time, he was eventually added to the team.

As an intern, Anderson sent Conte and his friend/colleague, Ed Henry, were sent to do a story on Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the house. The pair went down to Georgia and spent several days following him around to hear his policies and watch his every move.

“We spent several days following him around without him knowing who we were,” said Conte. “We just went to public events where he was. He was promising to do all of these things for his district… spend all this money. We actually got our photos taken with him at some point.”

The pair wrote a column or two about Gingrich’s hypocrisy. Gingrich had been railing against members spending money on their districts, but in his home district, he was promising to spend federal tax dollars on local projects.

After his job with Jack Anderson, Conte was in charge of creating, editing and publishing two newsletters for an economic development organization.

“It was miserable,” said Conte. “I had been interviewing members of Congress. I thought I was hot stuff because I worked for Jack Anderson, then I got laid off. So, I started working for this trade organization. That was depressing.”

After attending graduate school for Journalism at Colombia University, Conte was hired by Scripps Howard to work at a “steppingstone” paper in Florida. Conte was assigned to cover this community called Port Saint Lucie, north of West Palm Beach, and their real estate scams. He worked directly with these scams in investigative pieces. His work in Florida earned him a few regional awards and a fellowship opportunity to work and study at the Florida Institute of Technology.

After applying to papers up north, Conte was hired by the Cincinnati Post, another Scripps Howard paper. Early in his tenure, during a 17-day ice storm, Conte was assigned to cover a weather story every day. His editor was very meticulous and asked many questions that Conte found somewhat unnecessary. His final ask of Conte was to call local snow plowers and see how the storms have affected them. From this, Conte uncovered an interesting story regarding how much money snow plowers had made from the storms.

“From that moment on (the snow plower story), I was like whatever this editor wanted, I was willing to do,” said Conte.

After some time in Cincinnati, Conte began winning some state-wide awards, even though the Cincinnati Post was more of a “small, scrappy newspaper.”

“It was a really special newsroom,” said Conte. “We were a small group of people doing really good work.”

After some time, he finally ended up back in Pittsburgh working for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Working at the Tribune Review was a good move for Conte. There, he truly flourished as a successful investigative reporter and worked on a few significant projects.

His first few years of working at the Trib were a little less glamorous. He started out by covering the Pittsburgh City Hall, which made it hard to stand out.

“Then when I joined the investigative team,” said Conte, “that is when we started doing work that was truly investigative. That’s when we won the big, national awards and statewide awards.”

Conte was chosen to collaborate with fellow investigative reporter, Luis Fabregas, because of his great reputation as a journalist. Fabregas and Conte collaborated on many pieces, winning many awards throughout their time together at the Trib.

Fabregas and Conte investigated a large story in the area regarding hospitals giving patients liver transplants when the procedure wasn’t necessary yet. This year-long process resulted in an award-winning investigative reporting story for the pair.

“He has made me realize the importance of being a fact-checker,” said Fabregas. “In journalism, we have to be very accurate. We have to be thorough. We must pay absolute importance to the facts and make sure that we corroborate everything that we are going to put in the paper, everything we are going to put on the website. I learned a lot of journalism from him.”

Over the years, Conte has been awarded many different journalistic honors and awards, Conte received four Pennsylvania Society of Professional Journalists’ Spotlight Awards for four different investigative series. His awarded works include series written on premature medical transplants: “Transplanting Too Soon”, unnecessary dialysis financial incentives: “Failure to Inform”, national organ procurement organizations: “Donor Dilemma”, and offshore banking: “Trillions Hidden in Offshore Accounts”.

Conte also was awarded four Press Club of Western Pennsylvania’s Ray Sprigle Memorial Awards for investigative stories on hospital treatment incentives: “Code Green: Bleeding Dollars”, worldwide financial black holes: “Shadow Economy”, unnecessary dialysis financial incentives: “Failure to Inform”, and premature medical transplants: “Transplanting Too Soon.”

A few other awards Conte has received include the Scripps Howard Foundation’s William Brewster Styles Award for “Shadow Economy”, and the Carnegie Science Center’s Carnegie Science Award for “Transplanting Too Soon”.

In 2005, Conte came to Point Park University with an idea to develop the Point Park News Service as another outlet for student media. This outlet gives students another chance to get their work published and possibly seen by news partners throughout the region.

He started off as a part-time faculty member. During this time, he began discussions about creating a space like the Center for Media Innovation. Conte saw a need for creating a laboratory for journalism as a physical space to support all types of news, especially in the current time when news deserts, large areas with no news coverage, are so prominent. He wanted to provide a space to fight off news deserts.

Point Park’s President Paul Hennigan found a physical location for the CMI in the YWCA in the heart of Point Park’s Campus, and he came to Conte to help design the space. The $2.5 million-dollar project was made possible, in part, with a grant from the Allegheny Foundation and a sponsorship from Trib Total Media. After about a year and a half of work on the space, Hennigan hired Conte for the position as the Director of the CMI.

During his time at Point Park as director of the Center for Media Innovation and a professor, Conte received his doctorate in Community Engagement.

“There are a lot of things I like about it (CMI),” said Conte. “The biggest thing is our ability to work with underserved populations that have never thought about themselves as having access to journalism before, and we are able to bridge that gap by providing it to them.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CMI in Use

Photo Credit: Patrick Riley Crow

As the Director of the CMI, Conte has had the ability to open the gates to many journalistic opportunities, including the Pittsburgh Media Partnership, McKeesport Community Newsroom and All Abilities Media. Each project has created opportunities to heighten local news.

The Pittsburgh Media Partnership works with the CMI to bring together 22 different local news outlets. The McKeesport Community Newsroom collaboration gives a space for a local news desert to come together as a community and report. The All Abilities Media project has empowered people who have disabilities to tell stories in a journalistic way.

Francesca Dabecco, a 2018 Point Park alum, was a practicum student for the CMI’s All Abilities Media project. She worked directly with Conte on this project and also had him as a professor.

“I’m lucky to have had Andy as a professor, mentor and friend,” said Dabecco. “He has so much to offer his students, whether it be his background in investigative journalism, the multiple books he has published or the fact that he is the director of the Center for Media Innovation, a place on campus that does so much to educate students and integrate them into the media field.

“I’ve stayed (in journalism) because I really believe in what we do,” said Conte. “I believe in the power of journalistic storytelling to change the world and make it a better place.”

Conte ultimately wants to continue his career by elevating journalism everywhere, whether that is growing the CMI or going elsewhere. His commitment to the CMI and to his professional agenda collaborates in ways that are affecting many people in the journalistic community.

“As someone who has been working in journalism for so long, Andy definitely has an eye for pointing out aspects of stories that students may not even be thinking about,” said Jordyn Hronec, junior journalism student and Point Park News Service apprentice. “He’s taught me how to navigate legal issues, as well as the importance of expert sources in articles. I would say that Andy, and the entire Center for Media Innovation, is an excellent resource for communications students, and they should definitely make it a priority to work with him in some way.”

“I think the biggest thing for young journalists is to set your goals high,” said Conte. “Whatever you want to do, the things you think you may never accomplish, set those as your goals and work towards them every day.”

Disclaimer: As Director of the Point Park News Service, Andrew Conte had nothing to do with the research, writing or editing of this story. Jordyn Hronec is also a member of the Point Park News Service team.  

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