GOP Attacks Investigative Journalism Course in Wisconsin University
I just can not abide encouraging a low information citizen system. We must bring sharp penetrating journalism back. The following shows a fine effort to help, under attack by the party that most depends on ignorance.
My department chair, Greg Downey, has been working to turn this around for more than a week; in a statement posted on the website of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication he called it “a direct assault on our academic freedom in research, teaching and service.” The department has also set up a blog that, among other things, provides both a portrait of the ever-changing GOP explanation for this action - and its determination to see it through. My colleague, Katy Culver, put up a terrific tribute to the importance of this work at her blog at PBS Media Shift, highlighting some of the great reporting by our students. The University of Wisconsin has also spoken out in support of the collaboration. Addressing the finance committee action, the dean of the College of Letters and Sciences called it “legislative mismanagement and overreach at its worst.” You can find an overview of events, coverage and reaction archived here at the center website. You can find links to all the terrific work done by my students. And you can find a link to this news story which warns that center itself might not survive this attack.
So I want to quote here in more detail from a letter sent to the finance committee by former interns of the center:
As students and graduates of the University of Wisconsin-Madison who have previously interned, worked at or collaborated with the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, we can attest that the award-winning Center’s presence on campus has been fundamental to helping us begin our careers as journalists. At the Center, we exposed how college campuses fail to support victims of sexual assaults; a former governor’s violation of state travel regulations; the exploitation of foreign workers in Wisconsin tourist zones, and conducted dozens of other important investigations. Many of us have built upon our experiences at the Center by later reporting for Wisconsin and national media including Bloomberg, the Associated Press and Forbes, in cities and towns across Wisconsin and the United States, and in several countries throughout the world.
A core mission of the Center is to train the next generation of investigative journalists. It meets this mission in large part by collaborating with UW faculty in the Journalism school to provide students with experience in using public records, data, interviews and other research tools in their investigative reporting. Having the Center on campus allows Center staff to collaborate closely with UW students on a daily basis. Both the involvement of UW faculty and the presence of the Center on campus are critical to providing students with the opportunity to learn the ethics, values and logistics of reporting for the public good.
And this letter raises the two issues that I think are critical here. One is that we want to teach young journalists to value “reporting for the public good”. We need more journalists who care about that and we need more investment in that kind of reporting. And second, our legislators may feel that by taking this action they are either protecting themselves or punishing the center. But they are foremost punishing students. This is a move that diminishes rather than improves the quality of education at this uniquely great university that has thrived in a relatively small, mostly rural state in the upper Midwest.