Vanessa Swales hired for investigative reporting job at Wisconsin Watch

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The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has hired former New York Times reporting fellow Vanessa Swales to boost its coverage of key issues, including societal inequity, the COVID-19 pandemic and the November presidential election in which Wisconsin voters are expected to play a decisive role.

Marco Poggio / CUNY Graduate School of Journalism

Vanessa Swales has joined Wisconsin Watch as an investigative reporter. Swales is a multilingual British-American-Iranian reporter who has worked in London, New York, San Francisco and Málaga, Spain. She most recently completed a reporting fellowship at the New York Times.

Swales brings skills in data analysis and fluency in Spanish to Wisconsin Watch, expanding our capacity to produce deeply researched reports that hold power to account and explore solutions to problems. 

“Vanessa’s ability to connect with Spanish-speaking residents and her drive to amplify the voices of people in vulnerable circumstances create exciting possibilities for growth in the quality and impact of our journalism in Milwaukee, where she will be based, and across Wisconsin,” said Andy Hall, the Center’s executive director and co-founder. 

Swales, 27, who is British-American-Iranian, was born and raised in Los Angeles, but moved to a village in southern England when she was 9 years old. As a “city kid,” Swales knew she wouldn’t always be surrounded by so many fields and sheep, and so she spent a lot of time traveling as a teenager and in her early 20s. The thrill of learning new languages, exploring different cities and meeting new people is what, she believes, motivated her to pursue a career in journalism.

“Journalism is about connecting with people and telling their stories, and Wisconsin Watch does that time and time again,” Swales said. “Their sheer dedication to communities across the state, holding the powerful accountable and endless enthusiasm for their craft demonstrate how important their work is and how much of an impact it can have.”

While at the New York Times, Swales worked on projects touching on race, politics, immigration, impeachment, coronavirus, gender and sexuality, technology and local crime. She was a researcher on the Times’ “One Nation, Tracked” project, which utilized a mixture of open-source intelligence, geolocation and fact-checking to investigate the movements of hundreds of U.S. citizens. 

While at NBC News as an investigative intern, Swales covered immigration, reported on ties between campaign contributions and President Donald Trump’s ambassador nominations and investigated solitary confinement in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers across the United States. Swales carried out extensive interviews in Spanish with detainees, as well as cleaned and analyzed large datasets. The resulting story, “Solitary Voices,” was a finalist for the 2019 Best Explanatory Writing at the Online Journalism Awards and finalist in the 2019 Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) contest.

While at Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, Swales cleaned and worked with federal datasets of funding and contracts with shelter providers for unaccompanied immigrant minors, which developed into a deep-dive into shelters with histories of abuse allegations, revelations that a doctor was drugging immigrant children to control behavior and a shelter mapping project in collaboration with the Associated Press. 

In that investigation, Swales found that MVM, a contractor for the Department of Homeland Security, was holding immigrant children in an office building in Arizona. An animated feature as part of that series, “The Office of Missing Children,” was winner of the 2019 Edward R. Murrow award for Feature Reporting and 2019 EMMY finalist in the category of Outstanding New Approaches: Current News.

Swales kicked off her journalism career while an undergraduate in the U.K. studying English literature and Spanish at Royal Holloway, University of London. She fell in love with journalism while working as a reporter and translator for the newspaper SUR in English (Diario SUR in Spanish) in Malaga, Spain.

She received a master’s degree in journalism from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York with a concentration in Spanish language reporting and a focus on investigative and data journalism. Her capstone project on maternal mortality and morbidity in New York City was a finalist in the 2019 IRE large student division.

Swales, who formally begins her job on Aug. 1, may be reached at

“We congratulate Vanessa on all that she has accomplished in the early stages of her career, and we are excited about the insights her reporting will provide at this critical time in Wisconsin,” Hall said.

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Wisconsin Watch’s investigative reports are distributed for free to news outlets in Wisconsin and nationwide, reaching tens of millions of readers in dozens of states, Canada and several other nations. In the previous 12 months, Wisconsin Watch stories were distributed 1,349 times by more than 250 news organizations, reaching approximately 15 million people. 

The Center, which began operating in 2009, is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit news organization funded primarily by donations from the public and foundation grants and based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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