FOI Update: GOP-led committee votes to uproot Wisconsin investigative journalism center

Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee voted in the wee hours of June 5 to uproot the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ) from its small office on the University of Wisconsin campus and ban university employees from working for it, The Associated Press reports.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism is an independent non-profit that trains students in the school of journalism to contribute to and conduct high-quality investigations, sometimes as a watchdog on government integrity.

The center’s executive director, Andy Hall, told City Pages the non-profit was “blindedsided” by the committee’s sudden decision to add the provision to the state budget and not sure whether it’s related to WCIJ’s legislative coverage, but “it’s certainly possible.”

“In the past, of course, some legislators and other public officials have been made uncomfortable by some of our reporting, but I don’t specifically know what might have triggered this action,” Hall told City Pages.

Republican Rep. John Nygren told the AP the center shouldn’t be using state facilities.

That afternoon, Gregory J. Downey, director of UW-Madison’s journalism school, published a response on the university’s website calling the decision a “direct assault on our academic freedom in research, teaching, and service — and on the Wisconsin Idea.”

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

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