Dear Governor Walker: I have an easy way for you to save some good jobs in Wisconsin

June 20, 2013

Office of Governor Scott Walker
115 East Capitol
Madison, WI 53702

Dear Governor Walker:

The UW-Madison J-School collaboration with is, among other things, an innovative, successful, far-reaching and award-winning jobs program in service to all the citizens of the state.  Please save it.

How can you save this collaboration?  Simple.  The budget bill on your desk contains two key sentences that I would ask you to remove with your line-item veto power:

Prohibit the Board of Regents from permitting the Center for Investigative Journalism to occupy any facilities owned or leased by the Board of Regents. In addition, prohibit UW employees from doing any work related to the Center for Investigative Journalism as part of their duties as a UW employee.

Removing these two sentences would be a clear victory for good jobs.  Let me explain why.

A few years ago our School of Journalism & Mass Communication (SJMC) here at UW-Madison embarked on an innovative experiment.  We set up a formal, signed agreement with the small, nonprofit and nonpartisan Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ) where we exchanged space in two small offices here in Vilas Hall (a 1970s concrete building which was itself partly funded by an outside gift from the estate of William Freeman Vilas) for the guarantee of regular paid investigative reporting internships for our students (starting at $10/hour), as well as the guarantee of free and ready access to the expertise of the WCIJ reporters in our courses, in our public events, and in the daily intellectual life of the School.  (You can see the formal agreement right here.)  SJMC faculty and staff voted in favor of this agreement, and it was approved by all necessary levels of UW-Madison administration.  Let me be clear, in case you have been misinformed: the WCIJ raises its entire budget on its own, and receives no direct “subsidy” from state tax dollars or student tuition dollars.

Over the past few years this innovative collaboration between our School and the Center has won national acclaim as a model for public-interest journalism and the “teaching hospital” strategy for professional education.  This strategy, which puts professionals in close contact with students and academics, is heavily promoted (and, in fact, expected) by all the major foundations that fund work in our field.  Our collaboration has turned a liability of underutilized space into an asset of professional expertise.  It has provided nearly two dozen students with paid internships and a gateway to professional employment.  And it has helped to bring increased status and visibility in terms of donations, research grants, and foundation attention to our campus (crucially important during the recent economic crisis).  We think it’s been a great deal, for both UW students and Wisconsin taxpayers.  And from the outcry we’ve heard over the past two weeks, it’s clear that our students, our alumni, and our professional colleagues think it’s been an asset to our School as well.

All that would be lost unless you veto those two sentences.

There are many reasons you might use to justify such a line-item veto — reasons relating to important principles like academic freedom, university governance, and the state service mission that we like to call the “Wisconsin Idea.”  But I’ve talked about those already.  In this letter I simply want to offer one final reason, which I hope you will agree with.

That reason is jobs.

On your web site you state clearly that “Creating Jobs” by “Making Wisconsin a Great Place to Start, Expand, or Relocate a Business” is one of your top priorities.  I too think that creating jobs is great.  Here are some ways that vetoing those two sentences in the budget bill can help you do just that:

  • You’ll be helping to preserve high-quality paid internships for journalism students right now — internships that improve student education and bring important information to the citizens of the state.
  • You’ll be helping to train not only those students, but dozens of others like them in reporting classes where we collaborate with the WCIJ, for the best kind of high-quality, successful reporting careers upon graduation.  Many of these students will build those careers — and their lives — in Wisconsin.
  • You’ll be helping to preserve the fragile for-profit news industry for employees, publishers, printers, advertisers, and readers all across the state, from big cities like Milwaukee and Madison to small towns in every county, by supporting the free distribution of high-quality investigative reporting.  Yes, did I mention that the WCIJ stories, many of which are produced in collaboration with our students, faculty, and staff, are distributed free of charge all over the state?  This helps struggling news organizations to stretch their resources farther — without having to lay off workers.

Like I said: jobs, jobs, jobs.

I really hope this is an easy decision for you.  Strike out those two sentences from the budget bill.  I know you have significant support to do so — in both conservative political circles and among conservative media pundits.  Interest in this issue has spread nationwide — a veto would be appreciated and commented upon widely, I am sure.  And, if I may be so bold as to suggest, you will be demonstrating your support for the core Republican values of both intellectual freedom and press freedom.

And, finally, you will be supporting good, important jobs.

Thank you,


Greg Downey
Professor and Director
School of Journalism & Mass Communication
University of Wisconsin-Madison

(Affiliation listed for transparency; these views are my own.)

One thought on “Dear Governor Walker: I have an easy way for you to save some good jobs in Wisconsin

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