Resource page for WCIJ/SJMC budget bill amendment crisis

Update 30 June 2013: Governor Scott Walker has used his line-item veto power to strike the provision; the crisis is over and our collaboration has been preserved.  Thank you!  For discussion of “lessons learned” see the tip sheet from WCIJ and the blog post by SJMC Director Greg Downey.

Thank you for visiting our action page.  This page will be updated regularly to reflect the latest information and links to this crisis.  WisconsinWatch has a similar action page here.

On Wednesday June 5, the following amendment was added by the Joint Finance Committee to the pending budget bill, apparently approved along party lines (all Republican members voting yes, all Democratic members voting no):

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 School of Journalism & Mass Communication vehemently opposes this provision, not only because it prohibits a successful, productive, and award-winning collaboration in research, teaching, and service having clear and overwhelming benefits for both our students and the residents of the state, but also because it represents a serious threat to shared governance and academic freedom (not to mention the Wisconsin Idea).

Stand up for the Wisconsin Idea. Stand up for our students.  Stand up for the future of freely-available, professionally-produced, non-partisan news.   And save our innovative research, teaching, and service collaboration with investigative journalism!



How to take action

Political participation by public stakeholders is important in this crisis.  Whatever your views, if you wish to take action in this debate, I encourage those of you who are Wisconsin residents to email your state legislators:

And whether you are a state resident or not, I encourage you to express your opinion — again, whatever your views may be — in an email to legislative leaders and to our Governor:

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau:


Assembly speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester,


Governor Scott Walker

The WCIJ tracks the reach and impact of its stories here.  Nearly 250 news outlets across the country (mostly in Wisconsin) have used or cited WCIJ stories over the past four years.  For example, here is a list of Wisconsin news outlets that have used or cited at least ten stories from WCIJ since it was founded:

La Crosse TribuneCapital TimesWausau Daily Herald

Green Bay Press-Gazette

Marshfield News-Herald

Stevens Point Journal

Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter


Appleton Post-Crescent

Wisconsin State Journal

Chippewa Herald

Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune

Portage Daily Register

Fond Du Lac Reporter

Ontario County Line

Oshkosh Northwestern

Sheboygan PressAshland CurrentSuperior Telegram

Augusta Area Times

The Sun Prairie Star

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram

Juneau County Star-Times

The Daily Reporter

The Oshkosh Northwestern


Janesville Gazette

Beaver Dam Daily Citizen

Milwaukee News Buzz

Wisconsin Rapids Tribune

Beloit Daily News

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

If you live in an area served by one of these fine news outlets, please consider writing a letter to the editor about the current attempt to prohibit the successful and award-winning collaboration between WCIJ and the UW-Madison.

A petition drive (goal of 1,000 signatures) headed by Lea Thompson, SJMC Distinguishd Service Award recipient and member of WCIJ’s Journalism Advisory Board, expressing support for the WCIJ-SJMC collaboration:  (Reached 250 signatures in the first 24 hours; student journalists should of course check with their employers regarding conflict of interest policies before signing this, or any, petition.)

Follow SJMC on Twitter: @UW_SJMC

Follow WCIJ on Twitter: @WisWatch

Like SJMC on Facebook:

Like WCIJ on Facebook:


What we’ve learned so far about the budget provision*

*Thanks to the work of investigative reporters! (Links to original sources below.)



What people are saying in support of the collaboration

UW and WCIJ reactions

State legislators

Opinion columnists

Editors and editorial boards

Professional and non-profit associations

Other journalism educators and programs around the nation

  • Joint letter of support from Professors Leonard Downie, Jr. (Walter Cronkite School, Arizona State University), Bill Grueskin (Columbia Journalism School), Nicholas Lemann (Columbia Journalism School) and Michael Schudson (Columbia Journalism School): “No magic bullet has come along to restore the old journalism. The business model that collapsed when classified advertising and display advertising fled the newspaper pages for a variety of online alternatives has not recovered. Newspapers continue to shrink. Finding ways to support fact-based, hard-hitting journalism remains a problem. The Wisconsin legislature should reject the proposal to weaken journalism and to harm an institution that has made significant contributions to University of Wisconsin students seeking serious education in journalism that holds powerful institutions to account. We think that’s what the First Amendment is about and we hope that a large majority of Wisconsin’s legislators agree.”
  • Stephen J. A. Ward, Professor and Director, George S. Turnbull Center for Journalism, School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon-Portland (and former UW-Madison professor): “I protest in the most vigorous terms this outrageous interference of Wisconsin legislators in the operation of your center and its beneficial relationship with media academics at UW-Madison.  The action represents a direct attack, along partisan and mean-spirited lines, on at least three great liberties that have defined this country: (1) freedom of the press, (2) freedom of association, and (3) freedom of thought and inquiry, particularly with respect to the work of universities, and their professors.”


Resources for action

Main web sites

Key documents

Official responses

Open letters of support from SJMC-affiliated individuals

Policies of interest

Other UW-Madison partnerships

Partnerships table

Data source: UW-Madison’s Legislated (Act 32) Accountability Report (DRAFT)



Press reports and social media circulation

Google News search of “wisconsin center for investigative journalism

@wiswatch trending on Twitter

@uw_sjmc trending on Twitter

Wednesday 05 June 2013

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Our main web site, including the initial Director’s response to this issue and the Director’s update a week later, has been viewed over 15,000 times since the story broke on Wednesday June 05 2013.

This action page has been viewed over 1,500 times since the story broke on Wednesday June 05 2013.

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About Greg D.

Greg Downey is a Professor in both the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He uses historical and geographical methods to uncover and analyze “information labor” over time and space. Downey is the author Telegraph Messenger Boys: Labor, Technology, and Geography 1850-1950 (2002), Closed Captioning: Subtitling, Stenography, and the Digital Convergence of Text with Television (2008), and Technology and Communication in American History (2011).

2 thoughts on “Resource page for WCIJ/SJMC budget bill amendment crisis

  1. As an alumnus of the SJMC, a faithful supporter of the School and the University, and a member of the Center for Journalism Ethics advisory board, I would like to know what the School and the University plan to do if this provision stands. Will the University abide by the amendment and sever all ties with the WCIJ? Or will it do the right thing and fight–either in court or simply by defying the provision? Because if the School is not willing to fight, then all of these nice words and petitions–while eloquent–don’t mean much. And frankly, my degree, my Distinguished Service Award and my ties with the School will mean a little less to me as well.
    -Scott Cohn, ’81

  2. Scott, it’s a fair question, and one I’ve been asked repeatedly in more than a dozen media interviews over this past week. I’ve avoided answering in order to keep the focus on the current situation — and because I just can’t imagine how any university could function in an environment where faculty and staff decisions about research, teaching, and service could be regularly and arbitrarily prohibited by any anonymous group of legislators without notification, discussion, or even justification. But speaking for myself, I don’t plan on giving up if indeed this provision survives in the final bill. (And I hope my record of not backing down from tough issues during the four years that I’ve been privileged to serve as Director of this School backs that statement up.) I should add that it has been heartening to see my fellow faculty and staff leaders in shared governance at the university level go on the record with a clear and forceful statement against the budget provision as well ( Such words are an important precondition to any next step at the institutional level. And so is the continued support of vocal and active alumni like yourself, Scott. Thank you. — GREG

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