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


Frackonomics: the implications of cheap gas

At 5:30 on Tuesday another crowd settled in to a University of Wisconsin – Madison lecture hall for the final forum to foster public discourse on the state’s booming frac sand industry. This time, it wasn’t about Wisconsin’s sand, or who’s coming in to the state to mine it. This last forum, facilitated by the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, focused on what the state’s sand is helping to produce, cheap natural gas, and what that means for future energy consumption and associated climatic impacts.

On the docket was Phil Montgomery, chairperson of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC), Greg Nemet, assistant professor of public affairs and environmental studies at UW-Madison, and Frank Greb, president of Energy Center of Wisconsin. Rather than go speaker-by-speaker, I’ll summarize the most thought-provoking insights of the evening. In contemplating the impact cheap natural gas on U.S. energy here is what these three men had to offer: Continue reading

Frickity frac: what is sand mining’s impact?

At the second of three forums on frac sand mining organized by the University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Nelson Institute, four interesting voices stood before another packed lecture hall. There was a representative of sand mining companies, an investigative journalist, a sociologist, and a groundwater specialist.

Each voice added context to the conversation Wisconsin is having as major energy companies move into the state. The Nelson Institute’s first forum two weeks ago, focused on why energy companies have pulled Wisconsin into the hydraulic fracturing industry: the vast amounts of a particular type of sand (frac sand) needed for fracking. This second forum sought to elucidate some of the impacts the state’s new industrial connections may have.

From bottom right, a conveyor carries sand from the crushing area to a wash plant tower to be washed and sorted by grain size at the Preferred Sands plant in Blair, Wis., on June 20, 2012. Lukas Keapproth/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Continue reading

The Idea: Copy sunflowers

Have you ever visited the marketplace of ideas? Since it’s an abstract concept that helps our economy and democracy function, I’m going to guess your answer is no. I hadn’t either, until recently.

One of journalism’s perks is a free pass to visit the marketplace of ideas, if I can find it. I never get to see the whole thing at once,  but whenever I talk to a researcher or entrepreneur it draws back the marketplace’s invisibility cloak a tad. I’m intrigued by the ideas interviewees share with me and have decided to pass on the thrill of intellectual epiphany. This will be a sporadic (ideas and the people who have them can be elusive) but ongoing series for my blog titled “The Idea.” Commence.

The Idea: Solar panels copy sunflowers Continue reading

All for Science and Science for All

This weekend the Wisconsin Science Festival will put Madison on the map as one of many locations bringing people and science together in a fun, interactive and almost abstract way. The agenda includes the science of football, an indigo vat dying demonstration, an insect art exhibit and much more. I recommend browsing the program to understand the true scope of exhibitions that will be present. There is a strong connection to the arts throughout the entire three days of festivities and the whole thing kicks off Thursday night with a ceremony mixing dance, music and scientific performances.

Steering committee member Laura Heisler said that Wisconsin jumped on the science festival bandwagon as they saw growing national and international momentum around the concept. The National Science Foundation (NSF) even funded a support network for event organizers, the Science Festival Alliance. Madison planners visited the Cambridge Science Festival earlier this year to learn from the pros. Continue reading