Grant boosts investigation of Wisconsin water issues, experiment in journalism education at UW-Madison

Wisconsin’s water quality and supply will be investigated by University of Wisconsin-Madison journalism students, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and others through a $35,000 grant announced today by the Online News Association.

The project, titled The Confluence: A Live News Experiment Covering Wisconsin Waters, connects journalism courses, WCIJ, Madison Commons, state newspapers, and public and commercial broadcast outlets, as well as volunteer citizen water monitoring.

The grant was among the inaugural awards at 12 universities under the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education, created to encourage experimentation in ways to provide news and information.

The competitive program is managed by the Online News Association and is funded by the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund.

“This is just one of the many benefits UW has reaped from our school’s innovative collaboration with the nonprofit, nonpartisan Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism,” Greg Downey, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said in a UW-Madison news release.

“The power of our combined expertise brought this crucial funding to Wisconsin, and to our students. Now that funding will help us to better serve the public interest. That’s the Wisconsin Idea in action.”

The Confluence project will be led by Katy Culver, assistant professor in the journalism school, and will involve numerous faculty members. Six or seven course sections, including intermediate reporting, magazines, investigative reporting, in-depth reporting, and video news will cover stories in collaboration with WCIJ and other media outlets.

Ron Seely, a WCIJ editor and reporter, is project editor, and staff members Kate Golden, Lauren Fuhrmann and Bill Lueders also will play major roles in the project under the direction of Andy Hall, WCIJ executive director.

Media professionals will work with students on reporting and writing while students will contribute to more expansive multimedia production. The project will seek to launch events with the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters; UW Extension and its network of volunteer citizen water quality monitors; and the UW Sea Grant Institute.

“Water supply and quality are critical issues in Wisconsin, and this collaboration between our students and WCIJ will fill a hole in coverage of these concerns,” Culver said in the UW-Madison news release.

“I’m grateful to these foundations for stimulating this kind of experimentation. In budget-strained times, it can be tough to be bold and innovate. This will enable real progress for our students and define new paths for us to move our courses forward.”

Hall said the project builds on WCIJ’s ongoing Water Watch Wisconsin project with Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television. He said students, faculty and professional journalists will experiment with new ways of educating students while informing the public of critical issues facing communities.

“We’re hoping that this will increase the impact of the journalism and will benefit students, as well as residents across the state,” Hall said.

By expanding on WCIJ’s distribution system — more than 230 news organizations have picked up its coverage — and existing collaborations with newsrooms statewide, this project will bring student journalism directly to local communities. The project will use a community engagement model developed by the journalism school’s Madison Commons in both reporting and distributing stories.

The goal is to use student and industry reporting as the foundation for social media, events and online discussion as a forum for exploring water quality and supply, and for seeking potential solutions to problems.

The project will launch this summer, with the first events and published stories expected to follow this fall.

2 thoughts on “Grant boosts investigation of Wisconsin water issues, experiment in journalism education at UW-Madison

  1. It would be unfortunate if only UW staff were interviewed. Hopefully this project will also focus on those people who have organized in support of groundwater like Friends of the Central Sands. These are the organizations that are making the difference.

    • Hi Katrina,
      A broad range of sources will be interviewed by students, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reporters and other journalists.
      –Andy Hall, executive director, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism