A Reprieve for Investigative Journalism in Wisconsin
Last week, I wrote here about a move by the GOP-dominated Wisconsin legislature to shut down an investigative reporting center which works with the journalism school at the University of Wisconsin. As I noted I often teach in collaboration with this center because I believe that investigative reporting is fundamental to good journalism (including science writing). So I wrote in protest of the provision, which was inserted into our state budget, which made it illegal for the center be housed on campus and made it illegal for journalism teacher like myself to work with the center.
It is my pleasure to update that post today by telling you that Gov. Scott Walker chose to exercise his line-item veto power to remove that provision from the budget. According to the statement Walker gave to state newspapers, this was simply a pragmatic decision. Walker said that it was the job of university regents to look at the appropriateness of such public-private partnerships and that that action should be "in the context of a larger policy, not just specific to one organization."
But an excellent analysis by Anna Clark at Columbia Journalism Review credits the high profile coverage and strong and visible advocacy for the program generated by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, by members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and by the University of Wisconsin itself to mobilize against the action, to draw in the support of a large number of advocates in favor of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and unfettered investigative reporting. Andy Hall, the director of WCIJ, also credited an outpouring of impassioned support from journalism students who spoke out in favor of the training opportunities through the center. In response, WCIJ is now raising funds to increase its paid internship program.
Greg Downey, director of the school, posted a "ten lessons learned" summary on his blog today. Downey did a remarkable job of working to keep investigative reporting integrated into the program. It's worth reading the whole post if you're looking for tips on how to successfully push back against efforts by a legislature to control an independent reporting program. But I'd like to quote just one statement which spoke to me. He said, "We found that the journalism community is more united by professional ethics than divided by partisan political-economic philosophy."
And that, it seems to me, is a very nice way to end this story. Here's to more of the same.
-- Deborah Blum
This post is cross-posted at my Wired blog, Elemental.