Photo courtesy Ellen Allen.

West Virginia native Ellen Allen — a fixture in the state’s nonprofit world, with more than three decades of management and leadership experience — is joining Mountain State Spotlight to head up the civic news organization’s business operations.

Allen will start her new role as the civic news organization’s executive director, on Feb. 6.

“Every once in a while, the stars align,” said Ben Bailey, chairman of Mountain State Spotlight’s Board of Directors. “Ellen Allen’s savvy and experience managing nonprofits, and her dedication to the public interest in West Virginia are exactly what Mountain State Spotlight needs, now, to fulfill its vision of delivering independent, in-depth and reliable news to all West Virginians. We are all delighted to have her join us.”

Allen will join Mountain State Spotlight at a pivotal moment for the growth of the organization. The nonprofit is beginning a three-year, $810,000 grant from The American Journalism Project that will allow Allen to build out the organization’s business side to significantly increase revenue-generation capacity and ensure efficient operations that support the journalism mission.

“This is a huge moment for Mountain State Spotlight,” said co-founder Ken Ward Jr. “Ellen has the expertise our organization needs, combined with a passion for making our beloved home state a better place. Working together, we will build a nonprofit newsroom that serves the public interest, giving West Virginians the information they need to make their communities better for all of us.”

In her new role, Allen will lead Mountain State Spotlight’s business operations and work to build and quickly grow that part of the organization. She will be at the helm of fundraising efforts, oversee day-to-day business operations and work alongside editorial leadership to create a just and equitable organizational culture that supports and champions its employees.

“I am thrilled at the extraordinary opportunity to be at the vanguard of influencing a new business model for digital nonprofit public interest, investigative journalism that can sustain, engage, and endure robust civic engagement for generations of West Virginians,” Allen said.

Most recently, Allen has served as the executive director of Covenant House, a Charleston-based nonprofit that works to get food, housing and health care to all West Virginians in need. During her decade in leadership there, Allen worked to improve the services and opportunities offered to people experiencing homelessness, low wage workers and people living with HIV/AIDS. She also advocated for her employees, prioritizing living wages, affordable health care, and paid time away from work for those working within the nonprofit sector.

Previously, Allen served on the WV Human Rights Commission and the WV Women’s Commission. She was also the director of the YWCA Resolve Family Abuse Program in Charleston and the Family Refuge Center in Lewisburg. Her career in advocacy spans over 30 years where she advanced equal opportunities for girls to participate in sports, equal access in schools for visually impaired and blind students, supported legislation to end violence against women and girls and advanced LGBTQ equality and reproductive health. Allen was born and raised in Princeton, West Virginia. She has a 27-year-old daughter, Sarah, and is married to Sue Julian. Allen enjoys travel, cycling, and hiking.  

Mountain State Spotlight, which launched in 2020, is at the forefront of a growing movement to build a new business model to support local journalism, and a new local journalism that is accountable only to readers and communities.

The organization was co-founded by three former West Virginia newspaper journalists, MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Ken Ward Jr., Pulitzer Prize winner Eric Eyre, and longtime editor Greg Moore.

Last year, Mountain State Spotlight went from pitch to publish in less than six months, launching in the midst of a global pandemic and without a physical newsroom. The organization had the strong backing of the most significant forces working to reinvigorate local journalism, The American Journalism Project, ProPublica and Report for America.

Significant funding has since been provided by Arnold Ventures, the Inasmuch Foundation, and the Benedum Foundation.