A nationally acclaimed board of directors, including experts in investigative journalism, nonprofit journalism and nonprofit financial management, determines policies, while day-to-day operations are handled by the staff. Individuals’ affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.
Michael Louis Vinson, board chair
Michael Louis Vinson is an LGBTQ, media and arts leader who lives in Green Bay. He is employed as Sales Director at Schreiber Foods and recently served as Chairman Emeritus of Fair Wisconsin, Inc., the state’s leading advocacy organization for the LGBTQ community, where he was on the board for six years and served in multiple leadership capacities. He also serves on the LGBT Caucus Advisory Board for the Democratic National Committee. Vinson sits on the board of Arts Midwest, which serves a nine-state region in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. Previously, he held an arts leadership fellowship at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, Ill. A former journalist, Vinson holds a Master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University, where he was a McCormick Scholar, and earned his bachelor’s degree in Government at Harvard University, where he was a Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholar.
Brant Houston, board vice chair
Houston is the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting and teaches investigative and advanced reporting in the Department of Journalism at the University of Illinois. He formerly served as president of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s board of directors. He is a founder and former chair of the board of directors for the Institute for Nonprofit News, a consortium of nonprofit investigative news organizations. Houston formerly worked as executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, a 4,000-member organization, and as a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Before joining IRE, he was an award-winning investigative reporter at daily newspapers for 17 years. Houston was part of the newsroom staff of The Kansas City Star that won a Pulitzer Prize for its work on the 1981 walkway collapse at the city’s Hyatt Regency Hotel, and he was one of four investigative team members who won a Headliners Award for coverage of misconduct by Kansas City area building inspectors. At The Hartford Courant, he won awards for investigations into state and federal government programs and was the paper’s database editor. During 14 years at IRE, Houston oversaw the creation of numerous training programs nationally and internationally and also helped it strengthen and increase its membership. Houston is the author of three editions of the textbook, “Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide,” and co-author of the fourth edition of “The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook.” Houston co-founded the Global Investigative Journalism Network in 2000. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Bennington College in Vermont.
Herman Baumann, board secretary
Baumann is active in the journalism community. A resident of Madison, he is board chair for the Daily Cardinal Media Corporation, the nonprofit organization that owns The Daily Cardinal, a UW-Madison student news organization. He also serves on the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation Board, and is a founding board member of the Wisconsin Collegiate Media Association. Baumann is the former editor and managing editor of the now-defunct Chicago Suburban Times Newspapers chain, and was assistant editor of the Vilas County News-Review in Eagle River, Wis. As a health care marketer and new product developer, he has several “firsts” to his credit. At Children’s Memorial Hospital (now Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago), the pediatric teaching hospital of Northwestern University Medical School, he created that organization’s first marketing department, and led development of its first logo, advertising campaigns, and sponsorship program. While at Voluntary Hospitals of America (now Vizient Inc.), Baumann led development of health promotion and disease prevention programs that reached millions of people. At the American Hospital Association, Baumann developed that organization’s first sponsorship program. In 2007 Baumann founded Green Line Strategies LLC, from which he retired in 2016. The firm provided sponsorship, marketing and strategic planning services to trade associations and other not-for-profit organizations. Baumann received a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1975 from the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication, which presented him with a Distinguished Service Award in 2007. He now serves on the UW-Madison College of Letters and Science Board of Visitors.
Bill Merrick, board treasurer
William “Bill” Merrick is a retired certified public accountant in Appleton. He currently serves on the board of the Community Real Estate and Personal Property Foundation, which is part of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. The foundation reviews and accepts gifts of various types of property and, typically, sells that property to benefit the donor’s charitable preferences. Merrick owned a tax and accounting practice for more than 20 years before merging it with SVA Certified Public Accountants.
Deborah Biddle, board member
Deborah Biddle is a National Diversity Council and Inclusion Institute Certified Diversity Professional, Certified Talent Management Consultant, and a sought after Trainer and Speaker. She leads the diversity, equity and inclusion consulting, assessment, training, coaching, and practitioner certification firm, The People Company. Biddle works with organizations that want to leverage the power of change to heighten development and performance for their people. She designs and delivers thought-provoking and challenging experiences that help people THINK better, DO better and BE better at what matters most. Deborah serves as advisory board member of Dane County Wisconsin Office for Equity & Inclusion, board member of Madison-Based Impact Christian Schools, advisory board member of Africasong Communications, Inc., United Way Of Dane County Personnel Committee member, Unitypoint Health-Meriter Community Health Impact Committee member, Madison Downtown Rotary Racial Equity and Inclusion Committee member and Music Committee member, and Golden Life Member of Schaumburg-Hoffman Estates Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She is also president of Reasonable Service Ministries, which serves people through bible teaching and Christian music.
Dan Conley, board member
At Quarles & Brady in Milwaukee, where he is a partner, Conley serves as a trusted adviser to clients on business disputes and transactions, legal ethics, class actions, legal malpractice, and matters attracting high levels of media scrutiny. He has over 30 years of experience in roles ranging from trial advocate, to mediator, business adviser, crisis response consultant, expert witness and trustee. Conley grew up in Rice Lake, Wisconsin and received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Wisconsin. Conley worked his way through school with various jobs, ranging from being a reporter for Rice Lakes’ weekly newspaper and DJ for one of its radio stations, to three summers cutting fish open in Homer, Alaska. While in school, he interned for the Wisconsin Legislature and Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Bill Bablitch, and spent the first two years after law school clerking for the Hon. John W. Reynolds in the Eastern District of Wisconsin Federal Court.
Charles Lewis, board member
Lewis is a professor of journalism and the founding executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at the American University School of Communication in Washington, D.C. A former ABC News and CBS News 60 Minutes producer, he founded the award-winning Center for Public Integrity and its International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the first global network of premier investigative reporters to develop and publish online multimedia exposés across borders. He is the author of 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity (2014), and the co-author of five Center books: The Buying of the President (1996), The Buying of the Congress (1998), The Buying of the President 2000, The Cheating of America (2001), and The Buying of the President 2004, a New York Times bestseller. He was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1998, and in 2004, he was given the PEN USA First Amendment award “for expanding the reach of investigative journalism, for his courage in going after a story regardless of whose toes he steps on, and for boldly exercising his freedom of speech and freedom of the press.” In 2009, the Encyclopedia of Journalism called him “one of the 30 most notable investigative reporters in the U.S. since World War I.”
Former board members
Gene Purcell, board chair
Gene Purcell passed away on July 31, 2021, from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism honored Purcell’s visionary leadership with this remembrance.
Gene Purcell was Director of Wisconsin Public Media at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, overseeing the operations of WPR and PBS Wisconsin. He was former executive director of the Educational Communications Board, which distributes public broadcasting across the state in partnership with the university’s board of regents. The board is also designated as the state relay for the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Amber Alert. Purcell, a UW-La Crosse graduate, also served as regional manager for Wisconsin Public Radio in La Crosse. He served on the board of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association and as secretary of the executive committee of the National Educational Telecommunications Association.
Brett is the Emeritus Director of Wisconsin Public Media. He oversaw the University of Wisconsin’s public radio and public television stations which are part of PBS Wisconsin and Wisconsin Public Radio. He also oversaw UW-Extension’s distance learning facilities unit, Instructional Communications Systems. Brett previously served as the Director of Television for Wisconsin Public Television. In that role he oversaw the network’s University and State licensed stations. During his 34 years at Wisconsin Public Media, Brett led WPT’s digital conversion, and has helped guide, design or implement various of WPT’s national public television models including Portal Wisconsin and the National Center for Community Engagement.. Brett also served on and chaired the Board of American Public Television, the Affinity Group coalition, the Board of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association and the University Licensee Association for which he served as Chair. He served on the PBS Board including two years as professional vice-chair. Brett has been recognized by America’s Public Television Stations with its inaugural “Pillar of Public Service” Award and by PBS with the Daniel K. Miller Leadership Award. He retired from the Center’s board in June 2021.
Marty Kaiser led the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to three Pulitzer Prizes before becoming a nationally prominent journalism consultant in 2015. He specializes in leadership, digital innovation, ethics, investigative reporting and editing. Before arriving in Milwaukee, Kaiser was Associate Managing Editor of the Baltimore Sun. He previously served in editing and reporting positions at the Chicago Sun-Times, and at Florida newspapers in Sarasota and Clearwater. Kaiser joined the Milwaukee Journal as Managing Editor/Vice President in 1994. He was Editor/Senior Vice President of the Journal Sentinel for 18 years. During his tenure in Milwaukee, the Journal Sentinel won three Pulitzers, was a finalist six other times, and built a national reputation for its investigative reporting, writing and digital innovation. Named Editor & Publisher magazine’s Editor of the Year in 2009, Kaiser served as president of the American Society of News Editors 2009-2010. He is a member of the board of the American Society of News Editors Foundation, the advisory board of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Journalism Advisory Board of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, the Colby College (Me.) Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award board and has been a Pulitzer Prize judge three times. He earned his bachelor’s degree at The George Washington University and completed the Northwestern University Kellogg Graduate School of Management Executive Program. He retired from the Center’s board in June 2021.
Karen Lincoln Michel, board member
Michel, a veteran editor, writer and newsroom leader, is president of Indian Country Today. She formerly was publisher and editor of Madison Magazine. A former president of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s board, she currently chairs its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force. She is a former executive editor of The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, La., and assistant managing editor of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Michel is a nationally noted leader in Native American journalism and newsroom diversity and a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe in Wisconsin. As assistant managing editor in Green Bay, Michel oversaw the Opinion page team, conducted community outreach to attract new audiences, and focused on public service journalism through data-driven analyses. Previously she covered state government and politics in her role as the Press-Gazette’s Madison bureau chief. Michel began her daily newspaper career in Wisconsin as a reporter at the La Crosse Tribune and went on to The Dallas Morning News in Texas, where she covered a variety of beats. From 1987 to 2005, Michel was part-owner of the twice-monthly newspaper News From Indian Country, published in northern Wisconsin. She has written extensively about Native American issues as a freelancer and was a columnist for The New York Times Syndicate’s former New America News Service. In 2008, Michel completed a two-year term as president of UNITY: Journalists of Color, the largest journalism organization in the nation, representing thousands of news reporters and editors of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. A past president of the Native American Journalists Association, Michel has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stout and a master’s degree from Marquette University. She retired from the Center’s board in June 2021.
Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Brenner
Brenner retired as publisher of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2016 after more than three decades in the newspaper industry. She oversaw Wisconsin’s largest newspaper, its websites and a wide range of related businesses through what was perhaps the most challenging period in the news organization’s history. Under Brenner’s leadership, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel won three Pulitzer Prizes and was widely recognized as one of the nation’s best regional news organizations. She retired from the Center’s board on Dec. 31, 2020.
Professor Emeritus Mitchell joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication faculty in January 1998 after a 30-year career in public radio. As Director of Wisconsin Public Radio for 21 years, Mitchell led the most extensive and successful state or university public radio system in the country. On a national level, Mitchell was the first employee of National Public Radio and was instrumental in developing the groundbreaking newsmagazine “All Things Considered.” A founding member of the Center’s board, Mitchell served as secretary from 2008 to 2020.
Baumgartner, a former assurance partner with BDO Madison, retired with more than 35 years of experience administering and overseeing audits and financial reporting for clients in the manufacturing, nonprofit, and construction industries. A certified public accountant, Baumgartner served as the Center’s treasurer from 2013 to 2020.
Shah was director of the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. In his research, Shah has explored diversity and disparity in mass communication, connecting issues of identity and representation in the media across not just race and ethnicity, but also nation and diaspora. He served on the Center’s board from 2014 to 2020.
Ralph A. Weber
Weber, one of the founding members of Gass Weber Mullins in Milwaukee, served on the Center’s board from 2017 to 2020. He was elected board president in 2019.
Krause, principal at Krause Communications, formerly spent 27 years at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and its predecessor, The Milwaukee Journal. She served on the Center’s board from 2019 to 2020.
Haumersen, a certified public accountant, joined Wegner LLP, CPAs and Consultants in Madison in 1981 and was appointed partner in 1990. In 2002, he was appointed managing partner. He served as the Center’s board treasurer from 2008 to 2013.
Denise Callaway joined the Milwaukee Public Schools as business and community partnerships coordinator in 2010. Prior to joining MPS, Callaway worked for more than seven years at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation as director of communications. She served on the Center’s board from 2009 to 2010.