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Wisconsin Watch and Wisconsin Public Radio have joined the NEW News Lab (Northeast Wisconsin News Lab), a new collaborative that provides technology support, capacity building and additional funding to boost local journalism and newsrooms. 

The collaboration includes six news organizations: Wisconsin Watch, WPR, FoxValley365, The Post-Crescent, Green Bay Press-Gazette and The Press Times. The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Journalism Department is an educational partner. 

Microsoft is providing financial support to the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation and Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region to fund the initiative.

Partners from the NEW News Lab discuss the project and its goals for improving collaborative journalism in Wisconsin. Host Rob Mentzer from WPR led the conversation with Curt Detjen, President/CEO at Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, Andy Hall, Executive Director of Wisconsin Watch, Amber Paluch, Vice President of Community Engagement at the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation, Joaquin Alvarado, Co-Founder and Executive Producer at StudioToBe, and Eric Prock Senior Director of Journalism Initiatives & Public Affairs at Microsoft.

The Northeast Wisconsin Journalism Fund recently awarded grants to the six NEW News Lab news organizations, who will produce in-depth local reporting on topics including racism as a public health crisis, lack of affordable housing, funding of local schools and coverage of local judicial systems. 

In the coming weeks, NEW News Lab members will release the first group of stories supported by the partnership, and to the greatest extent possible, each project will be available for free publication by other news organizations across the state and nation.

“By teaming up with new local partners and our long-time partners at Wisconsin Public Radio, and by drawing upon these new resources, we’ll expand residents’ access to information about important issues affecting quality of life,” said Andy Hall, executive director of Wisconsin Watch, the news outlet of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. 

The NEW News Lab (Northeast Wisconsin News Lab), is a new collaborative that provides technology support, capacity building and additional funding to boost local journalism and newsrooms. Here, the Fox Cities Exhibition Center is seen in downtown Appleton, Wis. Dan Powers / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

“These reports will serve the public in Northeast Wisconsin, and also statewide, as we highlight not just problems, but potential solutions. We’re deeply appreciative of this opportunity.” 

Microsoft selected Northeast Wisconsin as its fifth local news pilot in the United States as part of its Journalism Initiative, donating a total of $300,000 to the Northeast Wisconsin Journalism Fund. Wisconsin Watch has received $25,000 in the initial phase of the project; WPR has received $15,000.

“Local newsrooms are the heart of their communities, and we’re glad to support this partnership as part of our Journalism Initiative,” said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, who grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin. “By supporting these newsrooms in Northeast Wisconsin and providing them tools, technology, and funding, we can ensure the region has healthy journalism for generations to come.”

As a three-year pilot effort, the community foundations are encouraging other organizations, businesses and individuals to also make supporting local journalism an important focus through donations to the Northeast Wisconsin Journalism Fund.

“This pilot program has the potential to transform how newsrooms collaborate to bring the community important stories that impact us all,” said Dennis Buehler, president and CEO of the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation. “The better our communities understand the issues we face, the better it can form responses to those challenges.”

Journalism and news are facing an accelerating crisis, Microsoft noted in an October blog post explaining its decision to support local news organizations. Changes in digital advertising and in the way in which people receive their news — news aggregators, search engines and social media — have had a significant impact on journalism and its business model. Nationwide, newsroom employment has dropped by half, and 2,100 newsrooms have closed in the past 15 years. The COVID-19 pandemic created extra stress, with 11,000 U.S. newsroom jobs cut in the past year.

In the coming weeks, NEW News Lab members will release the first group of stories supported by the partnership. These reports will serve the public in Northeast Wisconsin, and also statewide. Here, downtown Green Bay, Wis., is seen in 2018. Sarah Kloepping / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

“A flourishing, connected and engaged community results from people who care about getting involved,” said Curt Detjen, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. “Vibrant and robust news coverage is essential to call our attention to understanding issues needing to be addressed. The media also offers a forum for lifting up underrepresented voices. We see great potential in this opportunity.” 

Last year, Microsoft launched its Journalism Initiative, which aims to preserve and protect journalism and local newsrooms. Other pilot programs are operating in Seattle and Yakima, Washington; Fresno, California; the El Paso, Texas and Juárez, Mexico region; and Jackson, Mississippi. 

The nonprofit Wisconsin Watch (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with WPR, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by Wisconsin Watch do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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