Trump raises stakes for press, public

Feb. 1, 2017

Your Right to Know / Mark Pitsch

Two days before the new president’s inauguration, the Society of Professional Journalists and dozens of other media and government transparency groups sent a letter asking Donald Trump for a meeting to discuss his administration’s relationship with the press.

Among other things, the groups wanted Trump to affirm his commitment to the First Amendment, assure media access to his presidential activities, and allow expert government employees to talk to the media rather than muzzle them in favor of public relations officials.

Trump has yet to respond.

However, the new administration issued orders to employees of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture not to convey information to the media or public. Officials also imposed a news blackout at the Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, Trump claimed, with no evidence, that up to five million illegal voters participated in the election; his White House spokeswoman used the term “alternative facts” to explain false claims that Trump’s inauguration audience was the largest ever; and chief strategist Steve Bannon called the news media an “opposition party” that should “keep its mouth shut”—views that Trump himself later endorsed.

All this happened within Trump’s first two weeks in office.

Where does that leave us, as members of the press and guardians of your right to know what government is doing?

First, we must report on official efforts to withhold information from the public—which is, after all, footing the bill for government. On day one, the new administration scrubbed references to climate change from the EPA website (echoing similar actions by Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources and Public Service Commission). Expect more of the same.

Second, we must continue to be vigilant in the face of Trump’s tendency, first as a candidate and now as president, to engage in bombast and exaggeration. It is our duty to expose unprovable, and outright false, claims.

Third, we must guard against politicians’ unwillingness to subject their actions to media scrutiny. It is our job to disclose what the administration is doing, even in the face of efforts to bypass the traditional White House press corps.

As law professors RonNell Andersen Jones and Sonja R. West recently wrote in The New York Times, while the First Amendment prohibits government censorship and offers protection against lawsuits, journalists have few constitutional rights to government documents and sources, or from being maligned by people in power. Trump, they noted, appears set on blowing up the “mutually dependent” relationships the White House press corps has had with presidential administrations from both parties.

“This is why we should be alarmed when Mr. Trump, defying tradition, vilifies media institutions, attacks reporters by name and refuses to take questions from those whose coverage he dislikes,” they wrote.

It’s not just about the media. It’s about your right to know. To quote Jones and West, “Like so much of our democracy, the freedom of the press is only as strong as we, the public, demand it to be.”

Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (, a group dedicated to open government. Council member Mark Pitsch is an assistant city editor at the Wisconsin State Journal and president of the Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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SPJ Madison sponsors ‘Time Stands Still’ theater outing

The Madison Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) invites local journalists to attend Bartell Theater’s “Time Stands Still” by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Donald Margulies. After two journalists return home after covering the Iraq War, they struggle to adjust to a normal life. The play explores the intricacies of love and friendship and the way America deals with media coverage of war and tragedy.

This SPJ group outing will take place Thursday, January 26, 2017. All attendees are invited to an optional group dinner at Coopers Tavern, 20 W. Mifflin St., Madison, WI 53703, at 5:30 p.m. (Each attendee will be responsible for payment of their meal.) The play begins at 7:30 the Bartell Theater, 113 E. Mifflin St., Madison, WI 53703. A special post-show talkback exploring a reporter’s role in reporting violent or controversial events will take place immediately after the show.

SPJ has arranged for a group discount of $15 per ticket so long as a minimum of eight people attend. SPJ invites journalists, their spouses, partners and friends to attend as part of the group.

Interested individuals should:

  • RSVP to Rebecca Wasieleski, SPJ treasurer, by noon on January 19 to reserve tickets and RSVP for the optional dinner at Coopers Tavern. Email:
  • Choose one of two payment methods: 1) Online payment of $15.50 per ticket ($15 for ticket, $.50 for Popmoney payment fee) can be set up by emailing In return, you will get a request for payment and payment instructions from the “Madison Journalist” Popmoney account. 2) Mail or drop off a check for $15 per ticket, paid to SPJ Madison Pro Chapter, to Capital Newspapers, attn: Mark Pitsch, 1901 Fish Hatchery Road, Madison, WI 53708

Contact Rebecca Wasieleski with questions at 608-628-0126 or


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Madison-area journalists raise more than $1,000 for scholarship

MADISON – Madison-area journalists raised $1,040 for the David Maraniss and Elliott Maraniss Scholarship at UW-Madison last week at the annual holiday raffle sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists, Madison chapter, in conjunction with the Capitol press corps.

The scholarship aims to help women and minority journalists, and includes a summer internship at the Capital Times in Madison.

Visit the scholarship page for more information or to make a donation.

SPJ Madison thanks all journalists who contributed to the success of the raffle and the companies and individuals that made donations:

Simon & Schuster

Circle M Market Farm B&B, Blanchardville

Wisconsin State Journal

Phantom of the Opera

Trempealeau Hotel

Mike Ivey


American Players Theatre

Food Fight


UW Athletics

Mystery to Me bookstore

Dee Hall and Andy Hall

Wisconsin Public Television

Wisconsin Public Radio

Capital Times

Creative Company and Vom Fass

Aqualand Ale House, Boulder Junction

Walker House, Mineral Point

SPJ Madison

Andrew Maraniss

Chris Drosner, aka Beer Baron

Bill Lueders

Stu Levitan

Ron McCrea

Mike Konopacki

Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Ian’s Pizza

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SPJ Madison announces holiday party and raffle

See new raffle prizes added below, 12/6/16

MADISON — The Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, in conjunction with the state Capitol press corps, will hold its annual Holiday Mixer and Raffle on Thursday, Dec. 15.

The event will be held from 6-9 p.m. at the Argus Bar, 123 E. Main St., just a block off the Capitol Square in Madison. All area journalists and journalism supporters are invited, and the event is free.

All proceeds from the raffle will benefit the David Maraniss and Elliott Maraniss Scholarship at UW-Madison. The scholarship aims to help women and minority journalists, and includes a summer internship at the Capital Times in Madison.

Visit the scholarship page for more information or to make a donation.

The holiday party will feature a potluck meal, so please bring an appetizer, side dish, main dish or dessert to share.

Prizes include:

  • Ten-volume collection of David Maraniss books, courtesy Simon & Schuster
  • Weekend getaway at Circle M Market Farm B&B, Blanchardville, courtesy Circle M Market Farm
  • Two, six-month subscriptions, Wisconsin State Journal, courtesy, Wisconsin State Journal
  • Two tickets to Phantom of the Opera, courtesy Overture Center
  • Free night’s stay at Trempealeau Hotel, courtesy Trempealeau Hotel
  • Use of Northern Michigan cabin, courtesy Mike Ivey
  • Two tickets, Isthmus Beer and Cheese Festival, courtesy Isthmus
  • Two American Players Theatre tickets and APT book, courtesy APT
  • $100 Food Fight gift card
  • $50 Food Fight gift card
  • Two Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball tickets plus parking pass, courtesy Wisconsin State Journal
  • Nashville gift basket and two copies of “Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South,” courtesy Andrew Maraniss
  • WORT gift package, including Capital Brewery tours, Bos Meadery tasting, and more, courtesy WORT
  • Autographed Greg Gard/UW basketball, courtesy UW Athletics
  • Books and gift certificate package from Mystery to Me bookstore, courtesy Mystery to Me
  • $50 Madison Originals gift certificate, courtesy Dee Hall and Andy Hall
  • Wisconsin Public Television gift package, courtesy WPT
  • Wisconsin Public Radio gift package, courtesy WPR
  • Capital Times swag packages, courtesy Capital Times
  • Creative Company client gift package, courtesy Creative Company
  • $30 gift certificate, Aqualand Ale House, Boulder Junction, courtesy Aqualand Ale House
  • $30 gift certificate, Walker House, Mineral Point, courtesy Walker House
  • $25 gift certificate, Next Door Brewing Company, courtesy SPJ Madison
  • $25 gift certificate, Vintage Brewing Company, courtesy SPJ Madison
  • Beer Baron 6-pack sampler, courtesy Chris Drosner, aka Beer Baron
  • Signed books/cartoons from Bill Lueders, Stu Levitan, Ron McCrea, Mike Konopacki
  • Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism beer stein and t-shirt, courtesy WCIJ
  • Autographed Bo Ryan basketball, courtesy Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
  • Five free slices, Ian’s Pizza, courtesy Ian’s         

SPJ Madison is seeking additional raffle items. Individuals and news organizations that wish to donate items for the raffle should contact SPJ Madison president Mark Pitsch at mpitsch (at)

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SPJ Madison media access statement

It’s Election Day, and the Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is reminding candidate campaigns, political parties and the public of the important role journalists play in providing news and information throughout this historic day.

In particular,  Madison SPJ seeks to ensure that journalists reporting from candidate election watch parties this evening are unrestricted and free to do their jobs. That means journalists should have visual and interview access to attendees and candidates and not be limited from moving about.

Increasingly, political campaigns have restricted the movement of reporters at events through the use of holding pens, making it more difficult for journalists to do their jobs. Notably, in 2012, campaigns for Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate candidates roped off media from people attending Election Night parties in an effort to prevent interviews.

Earlier today, Madison SPJ emailed letters to the campaigns of Sen. Ron Johnson, Rep. Paul Ryan and Senate candidate Russ Feingold urging them to allow journalists to do their jobs this evening without restrictions.

An informed citizenry depends on a free and open press. Tonight, let the media do their jobs.


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SPJ Madison to raise money for David Maraniss Scholarship

MADISON — The Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists will raise money for the David Maraniss and Elliott Maraniss Scholarship at its annual holiday party and raffle in December. The group is now seeking prizes from media companies, local businesses and journalists.

The scholarship is awarded to UW-Madison graduate students in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, with a focus on minority applicants.

“In a modern culture flooded with misinformation and disinformation, it is more important than ever to develop a new generation of journalists who are both fluent in ever-changing technologies and committed to and trained in journalism that emphasizes real old-school reporting and the search for truth. That is what my father, Elliott Maraniss, believed in, that is how he trained me, and that is what the Maraniss scholarship is all about,” said David Maraniss. “The fact this this scholarship, aimed to help women and minority students, includes a wonderful summer internship at the Capital Times, doubles its effectiveness. I’m incredibly grateful that SPJ Madison is helping us strengthen this effort.”

Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss is a Madison native and Washington Post editor who has written biographies of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Vince Lombardi and who told the story of the Dow Chemical protests at UW during the Vietnam War, among other works. His father, Elliott Maraniss, was the longtime editor of the Capital Times in Madison.

The SPJ Madison holiday party and raffle, held in conjunction with the Capitol press corps, will be held Thursday, Dec. 15 from 6-9 p.m. at the Argus Bar in Madison. Those interested in contributing raffle prizes can contact Mark Pitsch at mpitsch (at) madison (dot) com.

In previous years, SPJ Madison raised money for Simpson Street Free Press and the Tom Mulhern Scholarship for Sports Journalism at UW-Madison.


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SPJ delegates reject name change

NEW ORLEANS – Delegates to the Society of Professional Journalists’ annual convention last week voted against renaming the organization.

By a vote of 57-44, delegates rejected a proposal to rename the 6,800-member group the “Society for Professional Journalism.” The proposal has received an increasing number of votes since it was first suggested several years ago.

Proponents said such a name change would more accurately reflect the membership because not all members are journalists, and would better advocate for the profession. Opponents said the focus of the organization should be on those who practice journalism.

Delegates also backed a proposal to create a new “supporting member” category.  Delegates also:

  • Urged President Obama to abandon restrictions on access to government information and officials.
  • Backed enhanced protections for student journalists.
  • Backed transparency in media ownership.
  • Endorsed the right to report on political campaigns.
  • Tabled a proposal opposing mandatory “trigger warnings” on college campuses.


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