Wisconsin’s ‘news deserts’ hurt our democracy — but you can help

News deserts are geographical areas or socioeconomic groups that are parched of fresh, important local news, whether it’s a result of the shuttering of neighborhood newspapers, downsizing and the limited resources of news outlets or a lack of coverage of particular topics. Help WCIJ identify news deserts in Wisconsin by writing to me at msato@wisconsinwatch.org.

Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism earns eight Milwaukee Press Club awards for coverage in 2016

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism was named a winner Tuesday of eight awards in the 2016 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism contest. The Center now has received a total of 48 awards since 2011 in the state’s premiere all-media journalism competition. The honors recognize stories that examined risks to Wisconsin’s drinking water, the lack of universal background checks for gun purchases, financial practices that target poor consumers, the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs, the lack of protections for bees and the use of trauma-informed care in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system and elsewhere. Sharing several awards with the Center was Bridgit Bowden, Wisconsin Public Radio’s former Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Fellow who was embedded in the Center’s newsroom last year. University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication students, working as paid Center interns or in classroom collaborations, played important roles in four of the award-winning entries.

Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council names ‘Opee’ winners

Two citizens, two journalists, one fired government worker and one small but gutsy Wisconsin newspaper are among the recipients of the 2016-17 Openness Awards, or Opees, bestowed annually by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. The awards, announced in advance of national Sunshine Week (sunshineweek.org), March 12-18, recognize extraordinary achievement in the cause of open government.

Your Right to Know: Keep public notices in print

For more than two centuries, governments in this country have paid newspapers to publish public notices about the actions of government. But now, Wisconsin state legislators are circulating a pair of bills, AB70 and SB42, that aim to take public notices out of newspapers and put them instead on government websites. It’s a bad idea that would harm transparency, democracy and public trust. Without a third-party, independent source providing the information, there is no accountability, no checks and balances to make sure that government is posting all the public notices it is required by law to post. Most Wisconsin residents continue to rely on the printed newspaper for information about their local elected governments, as they have for decades.

Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism name Alexandra Hall as Simonson Investigative Reporting Fellow

Wisconsin Public Radio and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism are pleased to announce Alexandra Hall has been named the 2017 Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Reporting Fellow. During the one-year fellowship, Hall will work collaboratively with WPR and WCIJ to deepen her skills in investigative journalism, editing and on-air radio production.

Your Right to Know: Trump raises stakes for press, public

Two days before the new president’s inauguration, the Society of Professional Journalists and dozens of other media and government transparency groups sent a letter asking Donald Trump for a meeting to discuss his administration’s relationship with the press. Among other things, the groups wanted Trump to affirm his commitment to the First Amendment, assure media access to his presidential activities, and allow expert government employees to talk to the media rather than muzzle them in favor of public relations officials. Trump has yet to respond. However, the new administration issued orders to employees of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture not to convey information to the media or public. Officials also imposed a news blackout at the Department of Transportation.