Response to JFC budget amendment regarding SJMC and WCIJ

Follow the latest developments on this crisis at our blog Mediated Communication (blog.journalism.wisc.edu).

My name is Greg Downey and I am the current Director of the School of Journalism & Mass Communication (SJMC) at UW-Madison.  Today I learned that the Joint Finance Committee of the Wisconsin state legislature adopted the following motion into the proposed state budget last night or this morning:

Center for Investigative Journalism. Prohibit the Board of Regents from permitting the Center for Investigative Journalism to occupy any facilities owned or leased by the Board of Regents. In addition, prohibit UW employees from doing any work related to the Center for Investigative Journalism as part of their duties as a UW employee.

http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/210210181.html

Some background: A few years ago, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UW-Madison entered into an innovative collaboration with our colleagues at Wisconsin Public Broadcasting and a new non-profit and non-partisan professional investigative news organization, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.wisconsinwatch.org).  SJMC houses the WCIJ, and the WCIJ provides paid internships for SJMC students.

In only three short years, this award-winning collaboration has resulted in a dramatic increase in the quality and quantity of both investigative reporting and public-interest data that is available to the people and businesses of Wisconsin.  More importantly, this valuable information is made available not only through a central website, but through the free distribution of high-quality investigative news reports to private for-profit and non-profit news outlets across both the state of Wisconsin and the country at large.

The motion passed today by the JFC directly targets this collaboration, and as the current SJMC Director it is my judgment that SJMC, and UW-Madison, must oppose both provisions of the motion.

The first provision seems to arbitrarily single out our collaborative arrangement with WCIJ — where a modest amount of office space (most of which is used by our student interns) is traded for regular, guaranteed, paid internships for our students, as well as ready access to highly-respected investigative reporters as guest lecturers for classes and special events in the School.  There are plenty of other arrangements where outside organizations use UW space for activities, if such uses are deemed to be in the interests of our research, teaching, and/or service mission.  This one was, and still is.

The second provision is actually much more worrisome.  As written it would seem to broadly and recklessly infringe on our academic freedom in terms of research, teaching, and service.  Our faculty and staff regularly collaborate with outside organizations on media-related projects in terms of research, teaching, and service.  Just a few recent examples:

  • A research collaboration between a professor and the Capital Times to study and make recommendations concerning the transition from a print product to a hybrid print/digital offering.
  • A service-learning collaboration between a professor and the South Metropolitan Planning Council to have students work in the south Madison community and create a web site promoting the diverse cultures and businesses of this area in terms of shared community and food.
  • An outreach collaboration between a professor, local for-profit media organizations like WISC-TV, and a local community development organization to create a hyperlocal news site staffed by student reporters and editors.
  • An academic staff instructor bringing an outside professional investigative reporter from a for-profit or non-profit news organization into a classroom to work with students on a real-world journalism project.
  • A faculty member working in cooperation with a for-profit or non-profit outside organization as an instructional mentor for a student completing an internship with that organization, combining a work experience with academic credit.
Our collaborations with WCIJ are of a similar nature to all of these — but with the added connection that WCIJ provides a direct and consistent pipeline for paid internships for our students, in return for the nominal office space we provide.  These students go on to win local and state awards for their reporting, and to launch their own careers in public-service investigative reporting.

So to summarize: (1) arbitrarily prohibiting the WCIJ resource-sharing agreement (paid student internships for office space) would harm our research, teaching, and service mission; and (2) arbitrarily prohibiting “UW employees from doing any work related to the Center for Investigative Journalism as part of their duties as a UW employee” would be a direct assault on our academic freedom in research, teaching, and service — and on the Wisconsin Idea.

Thank you,

GREG

Gregory J. Downey
School of Journalism & Mass Communication (Professor & Director)
School of Library & Information Studies (Professor)
Center for the History of Print & Digital Culture (Director)
Internships in the Liberal Arts & Sciences (Director)
University of Wisconsin-Madison
5112 Vilas Hall, 821 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706 USA
gdowney.wordpress.com
gdowney@wisc.edu
(608) 695-4310

WCIJ-SJMC FACT SHEET

Update: See the WCIJ response here, and the official UW-Madison response here. We will collect ongoing press reports at our blog Mediated Communication as this crisis evolves.