"I got into journalism right after Watergate, and I've seen the power and importance of hard-working journalists like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to help hold a corrupt president accountable. I saw when institutions fail that the news media has a central role to play in protecting democracy. I have really held fast to that idealistic vision over these decades, even as we've all had to deal with financial cutbacks and we've all grown older and in some cases, become more skeptical. At heart, journalism remains an extraordinarily important pursuit, perhaps more than ever now, as we've seen government efforts go array and government officials become better at covering their tracks."
Hall talking with the MGP, 2009
Photo Linked From: http://wisconsinwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/andy_hall_3-230x300.jpg
Written for the MGP by student intern Sarah Hollenbeck at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, May 2009
Andy Hall grew up in Indiana and graduated from Indiana University in 1981. He worked for seven months for the New York Times as a "copyboy." Following that, he worked as a reporter for eight years at the Arizona Republic, covering a variety of topics. He was also a part of the investigative team, which broke the Keating Five scandal. In 1991, he began working at the Wisconsin State Journal, working as an investigative reporter and then as a K-12 education reporter. For the past ten years, he has taught journalism and mass communication courses at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Hall was looking for a means to pursue his two great passions: investigative reporting and teaching. He got into journalism because he "wanted to do some good." He was inspired by Chuck Lewis, who started the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., and replicated their business model.
The center was initially funded in January 2009 by Hall's severance check from the Wisconsin State Journal. He had assembled the pieces for the center over two years, and was ready to start working there full time, so he left the Wisconsin State Journal. Luckily, the journal supported his decision and worked out a severance agreement with Hall. The WCIJ just recently received a $100,000 start-up grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism program. WCIJ is currently accepting money from organizations and individuals. It will not accept donations from companies. It hopes to set up a system for micro-payments for citizens to donate to causes they see as worthy.
The purpose of WCIJ is to help increase the amount and quality of investigative reporting in Wisconsin. The Center's mission is to "protect the vulnerable, expose wrongdoing and seek solutions to ongoing problems." They will focus on issues that matter to folks in Wisconsin, and will incorporate all kinds of journalistic mediums---print, broadcast and online. Government integrity and ethics, as well as government efficiency, will be a major focus of the center.
All content will be available for free to news media in Wisconsin. Partners in Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television and the UW-Madison School of TV and Mass Communication will work on projects through the center. The center will collaborate with all media outlets throughout the state. It will also serve as a resource to news organizations in Wisconsin conducting their own investigations. It will answer questions about who would be helpful sources on a story, how to file open records requests, and other topics of interest. It hopes to help all news media, both mainstream and ethnic, dig deep into matters of importance to the citizens of the state of Wisconsin.
"I got into journalism right after Watergate, and I've seen the power and importance of hard-working journalists like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to help hold a corrupt president accountable. I saw when institutions fail that the news media has a central role to play in protecting democracy," Hall said. "I have really held fast to that idealistic vision over these decades, even as we've all had to deal with financial cutbacks and we've all grown older and in some cases, become more skeptical. At heart, journalism remains an extraordinarily important pursuit, perhaps more than ever now, as we've seen government efforts go array and government officials become better at covering their tracks. Hall added, "It's essential we become more connected with human sources and better at analyzing data to see how things are really happening."
Hall says he hopes this will eventually have regional, national and international interest. He thinks the model should be easily replicated in other states to help strengthen investigative journalism and democracy. It should also help encourage citizens to question going-ons in their communities. WCIJ hopes to teach residents how to begin looking into issues and hold state-wide workshops to help citizens "become experts at what is going on in their society."
Hall's wife, Dee Hall (reporter for Wisconsin State Journal) and himself have invested a substantial amount of money to get the organization off the ground. WCIJ will likely need $500,000 a year to run. Hall says this money may not be easy to come by. He comments, "It's a time of great parole for our society and though it may be tough to come by, support is needed for time and labor-intensive journalism. It is essential to develop business models to ensure investigative reporting will stay alive, and journalists will be given resources to do this important work."
"We're hoping to empower residents of Wisconsin and to give them the tools to do a better job looking into the quality of life in their community. People love their communities and their state and they often worry about what is happening in their state. We hope to move them past the state of worry and to take action," Hall said.
"We want to turn residents into citizen journalists. We hope to help them develop investigative skills and to turn those skills into action or if they find some sort of wrongdoing that deserves attention, they will alert that [wrongdoing] to WICJ so that those findings can be explored by professional news media," Hall said.
"In many regards, there is a lot of good news about the state of journalism and democracy. People still care, they have not checked out. Voter registration remains high. The number of people reading the work of journalists is actually at an all-time high, if you combine those reading the paid product and those viewing that content online. What we do still matters and people still turn to us when confronted with important issues. We however, are at a time when the economic pillars for for-profit journalism have crumbled, and nothing is in sight to replace them," Hall says.
Since advertising revenue is down and new avenues for advertising are available, Hall believes many of the dollars that have drifted away will not be coming back. Hall says he hopes to support the effort of for-profit media organizations with his non-profit organization during this tough economic time.
"We have to start with trying to understand what are the most essential parts of journalism that need to be saved. Because the resources aren't there, we cannot save it all. One of the essential parts to save is the ability to aggressively and fairly examine the actions of powerful officials in our community and in our state."
Some other parts of journalism that need to be saved, according to Hall include: political coverage, sports coverage and business coverage. He says media outlets have recognized the importance of saving breaking news, the weather, celebrity news, and sports because all of those attract high audiences, especially online. He says in this case, the business models have been adapted to save these types of coverage. Hall says media outlets also have to look at what models we have for saving investigative and watchdog journalism. He thinks non-profit is part of the answer to saving these models, and hopes his center will also be a part of the answer.