Former Wisconsin Watch intern Isaac Wasserman’s photo essay and story of life along Madison’s Starkweather Creek — one of the most polluted waterways in Wisconsin — received an honorable mention in the 2022 Nonprofit News Awards Wednesday.
The awards, run by the Institute for Nonprofit News, recognize top journalism produced by the organization’s 400 members, all of them nonprofit, independent news outlets spread across the United States. Contributing to Wisconsin Watch’s entry were Deputy Managing Editor Jim Malewitz and Digital and Multimedia Director Coburn Dukehart.
The entry was recognized in the Insight Award for Visual Journalism-Large Division. The winner of that category was PublicSource and its photographer, Quinn Glabicki, for his yearlong photo essay, The City of Prayer, which documented the struggles and triumphs of the industrial city of Clairton, Pennsylvania.
For Wasserman, a former Madison resident, the Starkweather Creek project was personal. He had grown up blocks away from the creek and was dismayed to learn that it was the most PFAS-contaminated body of water in the state. PFAS are so-called forever chemicals that are tied to numerous health problems.
The state Department of Natural Resources has identified Truax Field Air National Guard Base and Dane County Regional Airport as known sources of PFAS in the creek. That’s due to the chemical-laced firefighting foam used on site. The DNR is continuing to investigate other potential sources of contamination.
Wasserman spent the summer of 2021 researching the health of the creek, the years-long efforts by local activists and environmentalists to draw attention to its condition, interviewing residents, and exploring what local politicians had done, or not done, to address the issue.
But most of the hard work by Wasserman was done by just watching and waiting by the creek, introducing himself to people who fished, swam and lived near the creek. Most of the residents told Wasserman they had no idea of the dangers lurking within.
About the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism is a nonpartisan, independent nonprofit with offices at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and in Milwaukee at Marquette University. It was launched in 2009.
Its mission is to increase the quality, quantity and understanding of investigative journalism to foster an informed citizenry and strengthen democracy. Its guiding values: Protect the vulnerable. Expose wrongdoing. Explore solutions.
The multimedia journalism of Wisconsin Watch, the Center’s news outlet, digs into undercovered issues, documents inequitable and failing systems, puts findings into regional and national contexts and explores potential solutions. We aim to spark impact that improves people’s lives and holds power to account.
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