Myth and Fact: WisconsinWatch.org and UW-Madison

The innovative, award-winning collaboration between the private, nonprofit, and nonpartisan Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ, at WisconsinWatch.org) and the UW-Madison School of Journalism & Mass Communication (SJMC) has been targeted for destruction in the state budget bill.  Here are five key myths and facts about this issue.

 

Myth: WisconsinWatch.org receives taxpayer funding.  

Fact: WisconsinWatch.org raises its entire budget on its own, and receives neither state tax dollars nor student tuition dollars.  UW-Madison has a formal, signed agreement with the WCIJ where we exchange space in two small offices here in Vilas Hall (a 1970s concrete building which was itself partly funded by an outside gift from the estate of William Freeman Vilas) for the guarantee of regular paid investigative reporting internships for our students (starting at $10/hour), as well as the guarantee of free and ready access to the expertise of the WCIJ reporters in our courses, in our public events, and in the daily intellectual life of the School.  UW-Madison faculty and staff voted in favor of this agreement, and it was approved by all necessary levels of UW-Madison administration.  It is a contract, not a subsidy.

Source: PDF of facilities use agreement

 

Myth: Media organizations should not collaborate with universities.

Fact:  UW-Madison has long collaborated with Wisconsin Public Broadcasting, and journalism programs have long collaborated with media professionals.    The innovative collaboration between UW-Madison and WisconsinWatch.org has won national acclaim as a model for public-interest journalism and the “teaching hospital” strategy for professional education.  This strategy, which puts professionals in close contact with students and academics, is heavily promoted (and, in fact, expected) by all the major foundations that fund work in our field.

Source: Knight Foundation open letter to university presidents

 

Myth: No harm would result from WisconsinWatch.org leaving Vilas Hall.

Fact:  The proximity of professional journalists to our top-ranked mass communication department brings important resources to UW.  Our collaboration has helped to bring increased status and visibility in terms of donations, research grants, and foundation attention to our campus (crucially important during the recent economic crisis).  Media experts across the country agree that our collaboration is a model and should be preserved.

Source: Summary of national support for WCIJ/SJMC collaboration

 

Myth: Students would still receive internships if WisconsinWatch left campus.

Fact: Paid student internships are promised in return for use of space.  We cannot say whether the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism would have the budget resources to be able to continue to provide paid internships for students under a different facilities arrangement.  In any case, UW students would not have first claim on these internships as they do now.  Further, students in all of our reporting classes would be denied the opportunity to work with expert professional investigative journalists as classroom resources and mentors.

Source: PDF of facilities use agreement

 

Myth: This provision affects only a single arrangement on the UW campus.

Fact: If allowed to stand, this provision would threaten thousands of similar collaborations that UW-Madison engages in with community organizations.  To uphold the principles of academic freedom, university faculty and staff need to be able to collaborate with outside organizations in research, teaching, and service in accordance with their knowledge expertise and shared governance practices, not at the whim of partisan politics.  Without this freedom from political micromanagement, the “Wisconsin Idea” — our commitment to making the research, teaching, and service of UW relevant to the interests and needs of the state — entirely collapses.

Source: UW-Madison accountability report

 

Both the state Assembly and the state Senate have left the WCIJ/SJMC budget bill language intact.  The only chance for it to be removed now is if Governor Scott Walker decides to use his line-item veto power to strike it before he signs the budget bill into law.