By Jamie Wiggan
Veteran community journalist Sonja Reis has taken over as editor and publisher of Gazette 2.0. The move follows the March 18 departure of founder Sonny Jani.
For Reis, taking the reins at the alt-weekly represents the culmination of a lifetime in local journalism, where in addition to reporting she has earned her stripes in all aspects of the trade.
“I feel like every step I’ve ever taken has been headed here, to this — this is where I’m supposed to be,” she said.
“I’m deeply thankful to Sonny for his hard work getting this paper started and now trusting it to my care for the future.”
Having stepped down to pursue other business ventures, Jani said he accomplished
what he set out to achieve by relaunching a local paper after the former Suburban Gazette folded in 2017, and is ready to pass on the torch.
Finding in Reis a successor with an unmatched commitment to journalism, Jani said he can step away without concerns for the paper’s future.
“I don’t feel sad at all because I know this will continue,” Jani said. “I think it’s going to be in good hands.”
For Reis, who put in an offer to buy the dwindling McKees Rocks weekly several years before Jani’s relaunch, taking over at this juncture feels like a foregone conclusion.
Having begun her career shortly before the dot-com boom and witnessing print’s steady demise in the years since, Reis anticipates challenges ahead as she steers the newsroom forward.
“The first few months will be about finding my footing,” said Reis. “Beyond that, I want to focus on developing the features section and expanding online coverage to capture the news emerging between each issue.”
Reis landed her first bylines fresh out of high school in publications like the Coraopolis Record, setting in motion a career that later led her through newsrooms in Ohio and Eastern Pennsylvania before her return to Pittsburgh’s western suburbs in the late 1990s. Joining the Carnegie Signal-Item as a general assignment reporter in 1997, Reis rose through the ranks and became the editor of a lifestyle section distributed in six community weeklies owned by the former Gateway Publications group.
After a career break to focus on her children, Reis returned to the beat as a regular contributor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 2011–2017.
Attending Penn State University as an aspiring photojournalist, Reis got the local news bug attending a class on community journalism.
The course content soon awakened her to the value of local reporting — and the opportunity it affords to dabble in all aspects of the trade.
“That class taught me I could do it all,” she said. “Instead of focusing on how to become a reporter at the Washington Post, I was more interested in learning the ins and outs of putting together a local newspaper and in helping readers better get to know their communities.”
Reminiscing on Reis’s early career, Susan Crowell, a retired editor at Farm and Dairy, said Reis’s talent and application stood out among the many interns who shuffled through the newsroom of the Salem, Ohio ag-weekly during her 30-year tenure.
“I really felt that Sonja had potential even back then,” Crowell said. “She worked very hard at her craft and that was one of the reasons why I stayed in touch with her. Following her career over the years, it’s very clear that she’s a journalist’s journalist.”
Since leaving the Post-Gazette, Reis said her four-year stint as communications director at the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation has deepened her connections in the community and given her a greater sense of its needs.
“I have an affinity for the community and its people,” she said.
Reis will keep her day job, devoting evenings and weekends to her new “passion project.” It will be business as usual for the Kennedy resident and mother of three who has moonlighted as mentor and contributing editor for the publication since December 2017.
Gazette 2.0 Editor-in-Chief Caitlin Spitzer said readers can be assured their news will continue uninterrupted following the transition to having Reis’ hyperLOCAL Media serve as the publisher of Gazette 2.0.
Having worked on the paper since its November 2017 inception, Spitzer said she’s watched advertising revenue and readership grow steadily with each year, and is confident about the paper’s future under Reis’s direction.
“I think that this business is going to continue to be successful and I think it’s going to continue to grow,” Spitzer said. “I know that Sonja’s gonna do a great job because she’s passionate about journalism.”
As she leads the business forward, Reis vows to stay true to the words of her former editor.
“The news is always about people – it’s never about a law or a tax, or a school board policy,” Crowell offered up as advice from one editor to another.
“It’s about how they affect people. If you can remember to keep people at the center of every story, then you can never go wrong.”