I am writing this on the last day of 2020, and the last day that I own this media site called NEXTpittsburgh.
When I started it seven years ago, I had no idea it would grow to where it is today. And in that time, I still have not gotten used to the incredible support from all quarters: my wonderful staff and writers, our generous sponsors and the good people in this town who have lifted us up at every turn.
I may have started this go-to resource for Pittsburgh, but I did little alone. And today my heart swells with gratitude to everyone involved, including my colleagues at other media in town. At an event (remember those?) I attended shortly after starting NEXT, a media colleague and competitor introduced me to someone and said to her, “If you’re not reading NEXTpittsburgh, you should be.”
Who does that? Pittsburgh does that.
And that’s why it’s been so rewarding, day after day, to write about the exceptional people in this town who move mountains — or in our case, hills — to get things done and to help others and to make this a better place for all of us. There are so many. And they inspire other Pittsburghers to get inventive and more involved and help improve this place we call home.
In reporting these stories, NEXT has grown year-over-year and in 2020 alone, we had a record 2.1 million unique visitors to our website. That’s a lot of people reading about the influencers advancing this region and the impressive number of innovative things happening here.
I’ve traveled broadly and I have lived in the northeast, southwest, south and on the Pacific coast. But I’ve always felt the tug of Pittsburgh calling me home — and I’m not even from here. I moved here when I was 16, back when a lot of people were exiting.
But my grandparents were here and as a kid, we traveled from flat-as-a-runway Chicago to hilly Brookline to visit. My grandfather, who also had a deep love for this city, was a streetcar driver. He knew this place inside out and never tired of exploring. My grandmother worked at Potomac Bakery in Dormont which is still owned locally and is still operating today. My parents met at a movie theater in Brookline.
So when I arrived here in the middle of my junior year of high school — probably the worst time anyone can transfer schools, I’d like to point out, but it did help make me nimble — it must have been in my DNA. I enjoyed exploring this city from the start, long before I ever began writing about it.
Getting the opportunity to publish stories about Pittsburgh on a daily basis has been the highest privilege and the best ride by far of my long career. As a reader once suggested, NEXTpittsburgh has been my love letter to the city.
But the one challenge looming over me was finding the right successor to ensure its future success. You know, thinking about what’s next.
It had to be someone who is as passionate about Pittsburgh as I am and who has the ambition and energy to continue my work. Preferably quite a bit younger, since I’m late-stage career, with business experience and deep knowledge of this town.
In late summer, a media broker contacted me about a local person interested in exploring the purchase of my site. I grew curious when he said local.
When I clicked on the non-disclosure agreement he sent, I was intrigued to see the name and signature on it. Turns out I know the guy. He is young, 37, a self-described entrepreneur and a community activist with a background in public policy.
I met him at United Way years ago, following his stint as a Coro Fellow, and knew him as an intelligent and good guy.
So he and I talked and talked some more over the past few months. And in a highly confidential situation which is known to be quite stressful and combative — and which we both knew could collapse in a nanosecond for any reason big or small — our conversations were civil, thoughtful and overall good. In other words, rare.
Let’s just say I grew increasingly comfortable with the idea of him taking over.
I checked references along the way without revealing the situation and they confirmed what I was sensing: Great guy. Smart, level-headed, very cool. Thoughtful and kind. One comment got me like no other: “More than anything? He loves this city.”
Seven years ago, I took a great leap of faith hoping the net would appear. It did in the way of a highly supportive community that made this all possible. I’m leaping once again, and it feels both good and scary but I’m confident this is the right move. It ensures a solid future for NEXTpittsburgh and for our community that has come to rely on NEXT as a source for news and goings-on around town.
I will be around for as long as it takes to help with a seamless transition, so this is not a goodbye. This is a hello, a very enthusiastic and warm welcome to the new owner of NEXTpittsburgh, John Rhoades.