The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has been doing great work — and training lots of our students — for just about one short year. This week the American Journalism Review spotlights the Center with a series of articles, including this one on the path that led Executive Director Andy Hall to strike out on this innovative new turn in his career:
Four years ago, Andy Hall started to think about his dream job, a position that would draw upon two of his passions: investigative reporting and teaching.
He had just been assigned to the education beat at the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison. It was a great job, he says, but when this dream started to creep into his head, he began to think about leaving the paper where he’d worked as an investigative reporter since 1991.
“I simply wanted to create a job that I’d love to do,” Hall says. “As a middle-aged guy whose relatives were having health problems, I was developing a keen sense of how short and fragile life really is, so if we have a dream, we should pursue it.”
Hall’s dream is now a reality; he’s the executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, which produces investigative reports on government integrity and quality oflife issues.
Hall was acquainted with successful national models for nonprofit investigative journalism (see “Nonprofit News,” February/March 2008, and “The Nonprofit Explosion,” page 31), and it seemed to him that Wisconsin might be a good place to build a state-focused center.
By January 2009, Hall says he had quietly incorporated the investigative center as WCIJ Inc. and was ready to take the plunge. “My dream had become an obsession,” Hall says. “I’d often wake up in the middle of the night with ideas about how the center would operate. I’d write them down and go back to sleep.”
So Hall took a buyout from the State Journal, ending 26 years at daily newspapers. For that first month in January, he worked out of his basement, drawing on money from the buyout, until the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation called to say it had awarded the center a $100,000 grant. The School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison offered office space. Hall began collaborating with students in the school and professional journalists across the state.
“And,” he says, “the center came to life.”