Dear Wisconsin Watch reader,
Like many of my peers, I became a journalist because I wanted to deliver on the principles that guide Wisconsin Watch’s work: “Protect the vulnerable. Expose wrongdoing. Explore solutions.” — all in an effort to make our communities more just and equitable.
In a tumultuous 2020, our newsroom was among many to reflect on how well we are carrying out our mission. We helped launch a Milwaukee-focused initiative, called News414, that recognized we could better serve residents — those often ignored by traditional news media — by focusing on deep listening and meeting them where they are: including on their phones.
The project is teaching me to be a better journalist, and I’m hoping it will inspire others.
In collaboration with Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service and Outlier Media, we have delivered rapid information via text to more than 2,000 Milwaukee residents during the pandemic. That includes how to apply for rent assistance, where to find food distribution centers and how to navigate the state’s unemployment system — information residents we surveyed told us they wanted to know.
The texting interactions between reporters and residents have inspired more traditional solutions-focused stories about problems ranging from racial disparities in policing to Milwaukee’s escalating evictions crisis. But we recognize those stories are just one piece of a service that includes the act of reporting, engagement and trust-building itself.
The text exchanges lay bare the enormity of our task in seeking solutions to challenges in deeply segregated Milwaukee, particularly in Black and brown-majority neighborhoods that state and local leaders have long neglected. But the texts have also offered moments of hope that will help sustain our work into 2021.
News414 helped one father secure free beds for his children. “That was an answer from God,” the man told us. Another subscriber got $1,420 in assistance to pay rent after using our information. “Thank you for all the information and supporting the community,” the person texted.
Your donation today impacts our ability to focus on nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative journalism, as well as members of the communities we serve through our reporting.
Thank you for your support of independent, fact-checked journalism. Our work is more than a story. Lives, communities and even our democracy are on the line.
With sincere gratitude,
The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (wisconsinwatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.