Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism board elects four new members, leaders

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The board of directors of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has welcomed four new members, expressed gratitude to four departing members and elected Malcolm Brett, emeritus director of Wisconsin Public Media, as its new chair.

Deborah Biddle

The changes include the addition of two members, Deborah Biddle and Michael Louis Vinson, who are leaders in efforts to improve organizations’ diversity, equity and inclusion practices to better represent the communities they serve. 

Biddle, of Verona, is founder and chief consultant of The People Company, which strengthens organizations by helping individuals and leaders at all levels to understand and move toward a more inclusive environment. Vinson, of Green Bay, is a former journalist. He is sales director at Schreiber Foods and recently served as chair emeritus of Fair Wisconsin, an advocacy organization for the LGBTQ community.

The other newly elected board members are Gene Purcell, who in 2018 succeeded Brett in the top job at Wisconsin Public Media; and Bill Merrick, a retired certified public accountant from Appleton. 

Michael Louis Vinson

Purcell, director of Wisconsin Public Media at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, oversees the operations of WPR and PBS Wisconsin, two of the Center’s closest partners. He is former executive director of the Educational Communications Board, which also operates WPR and PBS Wisconsin and distributes public broadcasting across the state in partnership with the university’s board of regents.

Merrick serves on the board of the Community Real Estate and Personal Property Foundation, which is part of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. The foundation reviews and accepts gifts of various types of property and, typically, sells that property to benefit the donor’s charitable preferences. 

Gene Purcell

“The board and staff welcome the four incoming members, whose energy and skills will help the Center improve its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts along with its other operations to better serve the people of Wisconsin,” said Andy Hall, the Center’s executive director and co-founder. “We are inspired by their spirit of public service.”

In addition to electing Brett as chair at its June 11 meeting, the board chose Brant Houston, Knight Foundation chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to continue serving as vice chair; Herman Baumann, of Madison, an expert in sponsorship and advertising, newsletters and magazines, and executive education, as secretary; and Merrick, as treasurer. 

WCIJ Board officers

Malcolm Brett
Brant Houston
Herman Baumann

Bill Merrick

All are volunteer positions. The board currently has 12 members and is responsible for determining the independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit Center’s policies and overseeing its finances, while day-to-day operations are handled by a 16-member paid staff. 

The retiring board members are Ralph Weber, a Milwaukee lawyer, outgoing chair; Jack Mitchell, a founding board member, the first employee hired by NPR, retired head of WPR and emeritus journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, outgoing secretary; Keith Baumgartner, a retired CPA and outgoing treasurer; and Hemant Shah, former director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UW-Madison.

“Their contributions individually and collectively have propelled WCIJ’s work, strengthened our operations, extended our reach and helped clear the path to future success,” Brett said in a resolution, approved by the full board, that thanked the four retiring members for their service.

The Center operates Wisconsin Watch, an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit news organization launched in 2009. It increases the quality, quantity and understanding of investigative journalism, fostering an informed citizenry and strengthening democracy, while training current and future generations of investigative journalists.

Its guiding values: Protect the vulnerable. Expose wrongdoing. Explore solutions.

The Center collaborates with, but is independent of, the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where it is located; and news organizations across the nation. Its investigations focus on government integrity and quality of life issues — the economy, the environment, education, health care and the justice system — of importance to the people of Wisconsin.

The Center’s staff supervises and trains paid interns and fellows who serve as investigative reporters and public engagement and marketing specialists. The Center also trains student and professional journalists. The Center’s stories are distributed for free to news outlets. The Center has produced more than 380 major news reports that have been cited, published or broadcast by more than 850 newspapers, radio and TV stations and news websites in Wisconsin and nationwide. The estimated audience of the Center’s reports is nearly 95 million people.

For information on making a donation to the Center, please click here.

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