Wisconsin Watch earns 11 awards, including 4 gold, for 2019 coverage

The Milwaukee Press Club announcement includes awards for online and audio reporting, best news website, feature photography and illustration

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Emily Hamer/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Invenergy’s renewable energy manager, Dan Litchfield, shows a single solar panel outside of the company’s office in Cobb, Wis., on Dec. 18, 2018. These panels would become part of a 3,500-acre solar project, one of the largest solar farms on cropland in the nation. This image was part of the gold winning entry for "Best multi-story coverage of a single feature topic or event" in the Milwaukee Press Club awards.

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Stories published in 2019 by Wisconsin Watch about disputes arising from Wisconsin’s move toward renewable energy, the controversy over cash bail and the quietly growing methamphetamine crisis in the state took top honors Friday in the annual Milwaukee Press Club contest. The WisconsinWatch.org website also was named best local news or feature website.

In addition, Wisconsin Watch won seven silver and bronze awards for other coverage and multimedia projects published in 2019.

Several of the award-winning stories were produced in collaboration with WPR and the Cap Times, which sponsored fellowships in the Wisconsin Watch newsroom. A Fulbright scholar and Wisconsin Watch interns from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and UW-Eau Claire also received awards — all in professional categories.

The awards bring to 88 the number of Milwaukee Press Club awards Wisconsin Watch has won since its launch in 2009.

“We’re grateful to the many people who entrusted Wisconsin Watch journalists with the privilege of telling their stories, documenting systemic breakdowns and exploring solutions, to improve the lives of Wisconsinites,” said Andy Hall, executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. 

Wisconsin Watch is the news outlet of the Center, an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization that produces fact-checked multimedia reports on government accountability and quality-of-life issues of importance to the people of Wisconsin. 

Here are the entries winning gold:

Best multi-story coverage of a single feature topic or event

Sarah Whites-Koditschek, a WPR Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Reporting Fellow, explored controversies over solar and wind projects in Wisconsin, which lags behind most of the country in alternative energy. Wisconsin Watch intern Emily Hamer and Digital and Multimedia Director Coburn Dukehart produced photographs for the stories. See the stories here, here and here.

Best public service story or series

In Beyond Bail, reporter Emily Hamer and volunteer freelance journalist Sheila Terman Cohen examined the controversy over the use of cash bail, which allows the rich to go free while the poor stay in jail. Dukehart and Hamer produced photos for the series.

Emily Hamer / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

“David” spent 84 days in jail for a case in northeastern Wisconsin that was eventually dismissed. During that time, he lost his car, job and apartment, and had his 50-50 placement of his son reduced to only one weekend a month. David asked that his identity be shielded because the state could refile charges against him. This image was part of the gold winning entry for “Best public service story or series” in the Milwaukee Press Club awards.

Best local news or feature website

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s website, WisconsinWatch.org.

Best hard feature story

Reporter Parker Schorr reported on the quietly growing methamphetamine crisis in Wisconsin, which saw a 450 percent increase in cases between 2008 and 2018.

Here are the silver award-winning entries:

Best consumer story or series

Schorr, reporting in collaboration with Rikha Sharma Rani of Fuller Project, showed the effects of restrictions on reproductive health care at the one-third of Wisconsin hospitals that are run by the Catholic Church. Schorr was a Wisconsin Watch intern and Cap Times public affairs reporting fellow embedded in the Wisconsin Watch newsroom. Fuller Project is a nonprofit news outlet that covers women’s issues. Dukehart produced photos for the stories here, here and here.

Best illustration or cartoon

Freelance artist Emily Shullaw, working for Wisconsin Watch, produced a series of illustrations to accompany a story about labor trafficking of Mexican immigrants at a Wisconsin cabbage farm.

Emily Shullaw for Wisconsin Watch

“The day you arrive, that’s the same day they ask you for your passport. They take all of your personal documents,” said “Roberto,” one of 14 men from Mexico who were alleged victims of labor trafficking at a southeastern Wisconsin farm. This illustration was part of a silver award winning entry for “Best illustration.”

Best investigative story or series

In collaboration with Wisconsin Watch, WPR’s Corrinne Hess reported on homeowners in the path of the massive Foxconn site who say they were misled into selling their properties. Wisconsin Watch intern Izabela Zaluska produced an interactive graphic of the land sales, and Dukehart produced photos.

Best use of multi-platform reporting

Whites-Koditschek, Dukehart, Shullaw and WPR’s Alexandra Hall were recognized for audio and online stories about an undocumented immigrant caught up in an alleged labor trafficking scheme that stretched from Mexico to Georgia to Wisconsin.

And the following Wisconsin Watch entries earned bronze awards:

Best feature photograph

Dukehart’s photo featured an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who was reunited with his family in Milwaukee after a judge rejected an attempt to deport him.

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Marigeli Roman lies down with her son Adriel, 2, and husband, Erick Gamboa, while watching a movie in their Milwaukee home on February 8, 2019. Erick Gamboa spent six months in immigration detention which was a major hardship on the family. Says Roman: It moves your world in so many ways: emotionally, mentally, physically, financially.

Best long hard feature story

WPR’s Whites-Koditschek and Hall teamed up to produce an audio report on an undocumented immigrant caught up in an alleged labor trafficking scheme that stretched from Mexico to Georgia to Wisconsin.

Best explanatory story or series

Wisconsin Watch intern Erica Jones, an Ann Devroy Fellow from UW-Eau Claire, teamed up with WPR investigative fellow Bram Sable-Smith to reveal the extent of Catholic clergy sexual abuse in Wisconsin and how the church is handling it. Also contributing were Dukehart, Wisconsin Watch’s Alisa Ivanitskaya, a Fulbright scholar and Edmund S. Muskie Internship participant from Russia who produced videos and photos; and intern Francisco Velazquez, who gathered data on the roughly 170 priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Watch reports put issues into national context and are distributed for free via wisconsinwatch.org and hundreds of news organizations across the state and nation. The Center trains the next generation of investigative journalists through internships and classroom collaborations. Its mission is “to increase the quality, quantity and understanding of investigative journalism to foster an informed citizenry and strengthen democracy.” 

Signups for the Center’s free newsletters, including COVID-19 updates, a weekly roundup of in-depth state news from trusted sources, and story alerts, are available here.

Said Hall: “This investigative reporting, and the training of the next generation, is made possible through the generosity of donors — 500 in 2019 — and we extend our gratitude to each and every one of them.” 

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