Investigative journalism attacked by Wisconsin Republicans

As a recent graduate from UW-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication professional master’s program, I read the following GOP addition to the Wisconsin state budget with chagrin:

Center for Investigative Journalism. Prohibit the Board of Regents from permitting the Center for Investigative Journalism to occupy any facilities owned or leased by the Board of Regents. In addition, prohibit UW employees from doing any work related to the Center for Investigative Journalism as part of their duties as a UW employee.

The relationship between the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ) and UW-Madison’s J-School is an excellent resource for students. In the very small amount of discussion by the Joint Finance Committee of this provision, there was no mention of the value of hosting the award-winning WCIJ in a place where students can learn from both experienced reporters and advanced digital journalism techniques. It appeared that Wisconsin Republicans think WCIJ is benefitting unnecessarily from free office space provided by a state institution. This overlooks the reciprocal benefit to the J-School, a benefit that, as a journalism student, I found to provide one of the best learning opportunities on campus and in Madison.

WCIJ staff guest lectured during several of my classes and shared insight into how to do rigorous, top-quality reporting. For example, they taught both one of my classes and a student publication for which I write and edit how to execute their outstanding model for fact-checking stories.

I created a storify of the action and reaction today. This one goes out to the organization that showed me how to make my first Google Fusion Tables map, the Wisconsin Center for  Investigative Journalism. For WCIJ’s reaction, go directly here. To see my storify, which includes tweets and links to local, state, and national coverage, visit


#AAASmtg Day 3 & 4: it’s about the (night) sessions

Besides following the jam-packed conference itinerary, the evening activities were on my #AAAS13 radar from the beginning. That was where I got to connect with other journalists, take in the city a bit more, and just have fun.

On the evening of Day Three, science writers gathered at Fenway Park for the Kavli Science Journalism Awards.

A snow-covered Fenway

A snow-covered Fenway

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Tools and Wisdom from Science Online 2012

I am a student. Formally of journalism and of geography but informally of the world. We all are. The best part about being a student of the world is that every person you meet is a teacher. So the great characteristic of Science Online 2012 was that for three days, I got to surround myself with teachers who have invested a lot of time knowing about the very things I want to make into a career. As a journalist-in-training, here are some of the tools and wisdom I picked up in Raleigh last week:


  • Tool: using deep listening to turn 60 minutes of talk into a one-page visual. This is my attempt at sketchnoting the “History of science as a tool for science journalists” session.

Objectivity 2.0: scientific journalism

Objectivity is a word that, in reference to journalism, is not as dry as it sounds. Its antonym, subjectivity, has been grounds for harsh reprimand. For many, a subjective reporter is an untrustworthy source of information.

In the world of journalism ethics, Stephen Ward, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics, spends a great deal of intellectual effort teasing out the history and future of objectivity. As it happens, he teaches my ethics seminar this semester and so my neurons have fired in the direction of objective journalism as well.

Past standards, he explained this week, hold a definition of objectivity that is not achievable. For a long time the expectation of journalism was only a factual, accurate recording of an event. No commentary, perspective, interpretation or speculation allowed. In that world, journalists could not have pre-formed perspective or opinion-driven interpretation. That, of course, was impossible. Continue reading

A storied reporter’s Pulitizer-winning tale

Jeff Gottlieb stood in front of us holding a lined notepad with a spiral binding on the top edge. He had jotted key pieces of his story there: important numbers, engaging quotes and descriptive details. And by “his story,” I mean the entire saga of Bell. And let me tell you, it’s a ringer.

The Pulitzer Prize gold medal awardLast week Jeff, a Pulitzer prize winning reporter for the Los Angeles Times visited Madison. As he spoke to my journalism cohort, I hoped to hear a few reporting tips and what it felt like to bring down Robert Rizzo, the dishonest, exorbitantly paid city manager of Bell, CA. And in fact I got both of those things, but even better, I observed a master storyteller at work.

There are good stories everywhere Jeff told us. And that may be, but you need a storyteller to do them justice. Watching and listening to him lay out the details behind his Pulitzer quality work, it was clear that Jeff was just the person to capture audience attention. Continue reading

Gaddafi, Facebook and your deepest self

That’s correct, this post will convincingly tie those three disparate items together with a firm knot. There will be no slight of hand, though I encourage you to watch very carefully. (Image courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society)Let me begin:

The graphic images of former Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi’s death made for some interesting discussion in my journalism ethics seminar today. Our guest, University of Missouri professor Lee Wilkins was the emcee. It’s true that many a graduate seminar hold little interest to non-participants, but today’s got to the crux of human development.

Were the blood-soaked images of Gaddafi newsworthy or a disregard for human dignity? (Note: this does not mean “do people want to see it?” Journalists should make ethical decisions based on ethics, not audience appeal.) News values come in many forms: timeliness, proximity, prominence and usefulness, among others. The death of Gaddafi is newsworthy, but the gruesome images may not be. Of course, newsiness depends on who you are, where you’re located, etc. The larger question here is, should a dying person be unwillingly thrust into public view? Or are there moments of life during which human privacy should never be invaded? Continue reading

Google 101: data mining and superior search skills

Search engines provide answers. Savvy search engine users can find better answers more quickly. Journalists are professional information seekers, therefore we need to be search engine savvy.

To help us in this quest, Madison Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) hosted Google 101 for Journalists tonight. Google’s Midwest Manager of Global Communications and Public Affairs Jake Parrillo, took us from basics to brainiac in using the massive pool of data his company compiles.

These are the top 10 tools and tips I won’t forget and am itching to use:

  1. Negative operators are an easy way to make searches more effective. For instance, to search for gates but exclude stories about Bill Gates, type: gates -bill.
  2. When sharing or embedding a video, you can make it start at whatever point in the video you’d like. Just use #t=_m_s (e.g. #t=2m35s); paste it into code or at the end of the URL.
  3. Public Data Explorer. Of all the Google 101 moments, this drew forth the largest gasp from Madison’s gathering of journalists tonight. Public Data Explorer is Google’s way of sharing immense amounts of government data, and pre-formatting it for your graphics-making pleasure. Continue reading