SPJ letter to Gov. Walker and legislative leaders


July 5, 2015

Gov. Scott Walker

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

Dear Gov. Walker, Sen. Fitzgerald and Rep. Vos:

The Madison professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists applauds your decision to remove in its entirety language from the 2015-17 budget that would alter the state’s open records law. We are pleased that you listened to us and to the broad spectrum of opponents – liberal and conservative interest groups, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, open government advocates and journalists, and others — to the changes proposed by the Joint Finance Committee.

Your decision is a victory for open government and government transparency. In that spirit, we encourage all elected officials and others involved in preparing this language to acknowledge their roles in the process.

In the future, any consideration of changes to the open records law should take place in public and with the public, and should focus on increasing openness and transparency rather than the opposite.

Mark Pitsch, president, SPJ Madison;  Joe Radske, director, SPJ Region 6

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Open Records Law in Peril in Wisconsin

News coverage, July 3, 3015:

The MacIver Institute, a conservative think tank, published this video report.

Wisconsin State Journal: Republicans vote to dramatically scale back oversight of lawmakers, other public officials

 UPDATE, July 4, 2015:

Wisconsin State Journal: Scott Walker, legislative leaders drop open records changes

The Wisconsin Newspaper Association has collections of the news coverage of the issue:

Collection #1

Collection #2

Collection #3

Collection #4

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SPJ letter to legislative leaders

SPJ Madison and SPJ Region 6 sent this letter today:


July 3, 2015

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

Dear Sen. Fitzgerald and Rep. Vos:

James Madison, Father of the Bill of Rights, Federalist Papers author, and the man for whom our capital city is named, was perhaps the nation’s first public records advocate. He argued that citizens must gain access to information to be full participants in its government:

“A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

Indeed. Perhaps this is why so many — conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, journalists and open government advocates, and others – have expressed outrage in the last 24 hours at the language inserted into the 2015-17 budget gutting our public records law.

The Madison professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists urges you and your chamber to please take heed of Founding Father Madison’s advice: Remove this language from the budget bill and arm the public with the knowledge that will help it be full partners in our democratic republic.

For decades, Wisconsin has had a proud tradition of open government, and the language inserted Thursday by the Joint Finance Committee through a 999 Motion would nearly eliminate any opportunity for the public to discover how its taxpayer-funded elected officials work.

Further, the language would wipe out nearly a century of drafting-file history.  Founded in 1901, the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau has maintained records that help the public understand how and why legislation is drafted. These records provide a crucial historical purpose but are also a valuable contemporary resource for the public, scholars and journalists.

The press has a responsibility to serve as a watchdog on the work of government officials. We are the eyes and the ears of the public. As a result, public officials may have, at times, an uneasy relationship with us. Public officials may not always appreciate the work we do, or like the stories we write and produce.  Under this proposal, you may avoid an unflattering news story now and again, but you will have done lasting damage to the democratic process in Wisconsin.

It is also disappointing that the Joint Finance Committee included this language in the 999 Motion on the final day of its work with little opportunity for public debate, and on the day before a long July 4th holiday weekend during which our country celebrates its freedom and independence – including the First Amendment. James Madison, lover of liberty and guardian against tyranny, would be appalled.


Mark Pitsch, president, SPJ Madison;  Joe Radske, director, SPJ Region 6


Gov. Scott Walker

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca

Senator John Nygren

Senator Alberta Darling

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Challenges amid the Chaos: Covering Scott Walker – the Reporters

SPJ Forum Crowd

SPJ Forum Audience

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker makes news in his home state and in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and elsewhere in the U.S. and across the globe. Three of Wisconsin’s award-winning political journalists and a nationally known media and political science scholar discussed the challenges and chaos of covering Walker on Monday, June 1, 2015.

An audience of about 100 turned out to hear Jessica Arp of WISC-TV, Matthew DeFour of the Wisconsin State Journal, Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Michael Wagner, UW-Madison professor of journalism and political science and co-author of “Political Behavior of the American Electorate.”

Coverage was provided by Bill Lueders, writing for Progressive magazine and WisconsinEye.

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SPJ June 1 Business Meeting

Society of Professional Journalists, Madison Chapter
Monthly Business Meeting
June 1, 2015, 5:30 p.m.
UW-Madison Memorial Union


June l, 2015

  1. Call to order
  2. Approval of minutes from April and May meetings
  3. Treasurer’s Report
  4. Membership Report
  5. President’s Report: Freedom Rings (Sam), Open Records rewrite,Data visual training May 8, Covering Walker
  6. Upcoming events: Meeting Brad Schimel; Summer picnic/party, Fall training
  7. Discussion/Action: Reimbursements
  8. New Business
  9. Adjourn

Votes could be taken on any Action or New Business item

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Challenges amid the Chaos: Reporters on Covering Scott Walker

MADISON –Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker can’t stop making news – in his home state and in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and elsewhere in the U.S. and across the globe. Join three of Wisconsin’s award-winning political journalists and a nationally known media and political science scholar as they discuss the challenges and chaos of covering Walker.

The discussion takes place from 7-8:30 pm on Monday, June 1, at UW-Madison’s Memorial Union. Check Today in the Union (TITU) that day for the room assignment.

It features Jessica Arp of WISC-TV in Madison, winner of the 2014 UW-Madison Nafziger Award for Achievement within 10 Years of Graduation; Matthew DeFour of the Wisconsin State Journal, 2014 co-winner of Milwaukee Press Club’s beat reporting and investigative story of the year awards; Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, co-author of “More Than They Bargained For: Scott Walker, Unions and the Fight for Wisconsin;” and Michael Wagner, UW-Madison professor of journalism and political science and co-author of “Political Behavior of the American Electorate.”

The event is free and open to the public, who will have an opportunity to hear from journalists directly about political reporting, and to ask questions. All area journalists are especially welcome to attend, and membership in SPJ is not necessary.

Based in Indianapolis, SPJ is a national membership organization that promotes high professional and ethical standards among journalists, First Amendment principles and the belief that a free and vigorous press is vital in a representative democracy. The Madison professional chapter was formed around 1990. Membership costs $75 annually, and it is open to journalists who spend at least half of their professional life writing or editing work for publication.

Contact: Mark Pitsch, mpitsch@madison.com; 608-252-6145

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SPJ Madison Data and Data Visualization Training Friday, May 8

MADISON – Data is transforming how we understand the world. And it is transforming how we do our jobs as journalists. Big data’s all the rage, yet more often reporters need to deal with small data — like budgets, law violations, water use or school test scores. Visualizing data in charts or maps can help you find and communicate stories, along with making you look like the newsroom genius. But it’s also crucial to know how to navigate the traps posed by dirty data — and rule number one is:  All data is dirty.

To help Madison and Wisconsin journalists improve their data skills, the Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is offering a one-day training seminar on the subject Friday, May 8 at Capital Newspapers, 1901 Fish Hatchery Road, Madison.

The session features Urban Institute researcher and UW-Madison graduate Jon Schwabish and Madison-area journalists who use data. It is free for SPJ members and students; the cost is $30 for others. Lunch will be provided. To register, go to our Eventbrite page here.

The session lineup:

9-9:30 am: Registration

9:30-10:30 am: The Growing Importance of Data Visualization
We live in an era where the amount and importance of data is expanding swiftly. Changes in technology are changing the way people interact and consume that information and data. And as producers of content, we need to be visual because—simply put—people are visual. That visual content needs to pair well with our audience and their needs, striking the right balance between truth, beauty, and content. Effectively visualizing data is one means by which content producers, researchers, and storytellers can tap into this new wave of data and people’s changing ways of receiving information.

With Jon Schwabish, Urban Institute, @jschwabish

10:30-11:45 am: Teach Yourself to Be a Data Reporter
Learn how to build your data skills from scratch with the most essential tools necessary.

With Todd Milewski, data reporter, Capital Times, @ToddMilewski  and Nick Heynen, data reporter, Capital Newspapers, @NickHeynen

11:45-12:45 pm: Lunch and Networking

12:45-1:45 pm: Open Refine
Learn how to use this nifty program that helps you quickly and efficiently find and fix errors in your messy data. Find and root out data entry inconsistencies, misspellings and other mistakes with this powerful tool.  We’ll teach you how to get started, and point out where to go to learn more.

With Nick Heynen

1:45-3 pm: Tableau Public Demo
We’ll demonstrate how to use this free program for Mac or PC to make data visualizations — first to find out what the story is and what’s wrong with the data, and then to tell a story through a pretty interactive graphic. No programming skills required; mere mortals can learn this.

With Kate Golden, multimedia director and reporter, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, @wiswatchkate

To register, click here.

For more information contact Mark Pitsch, SPJ Madison president, at 608-252-6145.

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