Andy and Dee J. Hall, the investigative journalists who co-founded Wisconsin Watch in their family basement, are leaving after building one of the nation’s most successful nonprofit news and training organizations.
The Wisconsin Watch board of directors announced the planned departures as part of a succession plan that will ensure stable leadership. Four veteran staff leaders will continue to guide the editorial and business operations under interim executive director Barbara Johnson, a longtime journalism executive and Wisconsin Watch volunteer. The board will begin a search for a new CEO immediately.
“The institution Andy and Dee brought into reality through their inspired and courageous leadership remains a vital resource for the people of Wisconsin and one of the jewels of this nation’s nonprofit news ecosystem,” said Michael Louis Vinson, chair of the Wisconsin Watch board of directors. “Their remarkable legacy will be evident for years to come through the ongoing work of this organization, which is well-positioned to lean even more fully into its mission and to serve audiences in new and imaginative ways.”
Andy Hall, 64, who as executive director has overseen news and business operations since becoming Wisconsin Watch’s first employee in January 2009, is moving June 30 to a role as co-founder at large. He will assist the board and staff through Dec. 31, when he will retire from Wisconsin Watch after completing 15 years with the organization. During his tenure, Wisconsin Watch has grown from an initial budget of $160,000 to a nearly $2 million operation employing two dozen people.
Dee J. Hall, 62, who as a volunteer managed interns for six summers before becoming managing editor in 2015, plans to leave the organization on June 30. Dee has run the daily news operations, serving as editor and reporter on more than 70 award-winning projects recognized in state, regional and national contests. She also taught a popular University of Wisconsin-Madison investigative reporting class that collaborated with Wisconsin Watch on high-impact projects. Dee plans to take some time off while assisting the news team in a smooth transition.
With Andy’s retirement on the horizon, the Halls decided it made sense for Dee to step aside as well to make space for a new leader to shape Wisconsin Watch.
“We join in celebrating the impact of Wisconsin Watch and the visionary leadership of Andy and Dee, who together have made Wisconsin a far better place for so many,” said Jason Alcorn, VP of Growth Investments at the American Journalism Project, a major funder of Wisconsin Watch. “We look forward to continuing to partner with Wisconsin Watch and its board of directors to ensure that all Wisconsin communities have the local news they need.”
Dee and Andy said they are “filled with gratitude for the thousands of people — supporters, employees, funders and collaborators — who have joined in this journey over the years, stretching back to 2006, when we began to dream of a news outlet that would serve all of Wisconsin and its residents with in-depth, impactful news, while training the next generation of investigative journalists.”
Stories are made available at no charge to the public at WisconsinWatch.org and to hundreds of news organizations, which in turn distribute them to their audiences across the state and nation.
The Halls said they appreciate the news sources who have entrusted Wisconsin Watch with sensitive details of their lives and struggles in order to hold the powerful accountable and explore solutions to systems producing inequitable or ineffective outcomes.
Foundations and other institutions, including the American Journalism Project, have funneled millions of dollars into Wisconsin Watch’s efforts to increase the quality and quantity of investigative journalism to inform people, strengthen democracy and rebuild local news across Wisconsin.
Partners — Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, Wisconsin Public Radio, and many others including the news outlets in the NEW (Northeast Wisconsin) News Lab — have stepped up to collaborate, complementing and amplifying Wisconsin Watch’s journalism.
The faculty and students of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and more recently the Marquette University Diederich College of Communication, continue to provide Wisconsin Watch with offices and invaluable opportunities to experiment. To date, Wisconsin Watch has trained more than 80 fellows and interns as investigative journalists and news entrepreneurs.
The Halls praised their co-workers for their “tireless and courageous efforts” to expose threats to democracy, the environment, the justice system, education, health and more in nonpartisan, fact-checked reports, while illuminating the path to potential solutions and coming up with the means to sustain this critical work. They also thanked board members who have “given freely of their time and expertise to guide policy making and exercise their fiduciary duties.”
They described their tenure as “both exhilarating and difficult.” Challenges included launching during the Great Recession, the failed 2013 attempt by the Legislature to evict Wisconsin Watch from its UW-Madison offices, the 2019 flood in Vilas Hall that forced the news outlet to find temporary quarters, the pandemic, which upended life and work, and managing a rapidly growing staff and budget.
Andy said that before he leaves Wisconsin Watch at the end of the year, he plans to reflect on what retirement might look like, beyond the obvious opportunities to spend less time on Zoom and more time camping, enjoying sunsets and get-togethers with family and friends. And he will consider opportunities to remain engaged in supporting and rebuilding local journalism.
“We have always done what we believed to be in the best interests of Wisconsin Watch, guided by three values: Protect the vulnerable. Expose wrongdoing. Explore solutions,” the Halls said. “Soon, those decisions and challenges will be in the hands of our successors. We will be cheering for their success. The mission of Wisconsin Watch endures now, and, we hope, for decades to come.”