A selection of Wisconsin Watch staff are seen in Madison Wis., on July 20, 2021. From left to right: Dana Brandt, Will Cioci, Mario Koran, Jim Malewitz, Zhen Wang, Phoebe Petrovic, Dee J. Hall, Andy Hall, Coburn Dukehart, Diana Butsko, Lauren Fuhrmann, Jay Burseth, Bevin Christie, Emily Neinfeldt and Isaac Wasserman. Narayan Mahon / Wisconsin Watch
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The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, and its news outlet, Wisconsin Watch, embrace diversity and inclusiveness in their journalism, training activities, hiring practices and workplace operations. The Center recognizes that its mission and society in general are strengthened by respecting individuals’ cultural traditions, beliefs and viewpoints. We further acknowledge that for journalism, and our democracy, to attain their highest potential, a robust supply of reliable information about key issues must be accessible to all.

Inclusiveness is at the heart of thinking and acting as journalists and the complex issues we face as a society require respect for different viewpoints and lived experiences. Race, class, generation, gender and geography all affect everyone’s point of view and everyone’s experience. Reflecting these differences in our reporting leads to better, more-nuanced stories and a better-informed community.

To quote the author, professor, feminist and activist bell hooks: “Justice demands integrity. It’s to have a moral universe — not only know what is right or wrong but to put things in perspective, weigh things.” Wisconsin Watch seeks justice through its journalism and business practices. We are fair, accurate, and we hold not only the powerful accountable for their actions, but ourselves as well.

Our DEI journey

Wisconsin Watch was founded in 2009 in the basement of co-founders Andy and Dee J. Hall. Our staff then was all white. As the organization has grown, we’ve begun to diversify our staff in race, age, and worldview, and our former staff and interns remind us of the variety of people that we’ve been fortunate to train and mentor over the years. But it’s become obvious to us that we need to keep working to reflect the variety of cultures, colors, and diverse viewpoints in our own staff, and in our coverage of the diverse people of Wisconsin. 

As part of that  journey, in 2019, our Board of Directors created a DEI task force to examine structural inequities and lack of diversity within our own organization and in our journalism. 

Then, in 2020, after the world witnessed the murder of George Floyd and reflected on the racial reckoning that followed across the globe, we enhanced our commitment to do better as an organization and in our journalism. We pledged then – and still pledge now – to:

  • Investigate and expose the histories and disparate impacts of systems on the lives of people of color.
  • Explore solutions to problems not just through the perspectives of experts traditionally sought out by journalists, but also through the lived experiences of people who are finding ways to navigate existing societal systems.
  • Embrace anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusiveness in all of our journalism, and in our own newsroom, including collaborative efforts, the framing of news coverage and selection of news sources, plus in our training activities, hiring and retention practices, and workplace operations.
  • Listen to your story ideas and welcome your contributions to our opinion and letters to the editors pages as forums for all voices.

Setting these goals in a formal pledge was a milestone for us. But we know this isn’t enough and the work doesn’t stop there. While we are well into this process, we continue to admit when we get things wrong, listen, learn and improve. 

2021 DEI assessment and working groups

In addition to the work of the DEI task force, starting in early 2021, our staff participated in an internal Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion assessment with ReSCI Consulting, a Madison-based, Black-led consulting firm that specializes in analyzing organizational culture and climate – identifying root causes of any shortcomings. ReSCI conducted surveys and interviews with staff members throughout the spring of 2021 and presented a final report last summer. 

After ReSCI identified different aspects of potential for organizational growth, and with the support of the American Journalism Project, we took the findings from the DEI assessment and began working with the Global Equity Collective, who helped us explore not just where we can do better as an organization, but, importantly, how we can make that happen. 

GEC found five themes in our current organizational culture that can be built upon in order to create a more just, equitable, empowering and diverse workplace. To most effectively and inclusively address these themes, we have created working groups to focus on, and propose concrete solutions in these areas.

The working groups are exploring:

  1. Increasing Diversity at WCIJ. We recognize that the racial demographics of the current staff do not reflect the communities in which we serve, including Wisconsin’s largest city, Milwaukee. We desire diversification of the staff, especially in leadership positions. To do this, we are raising the consciousness of all staff, and especially from those that come from dominant groups, around inclusive and equitable hiring processes. We have implemented hiring practices that are intended to reach more BIPOC candidates for all of our positions and this working group will help expand those efforts.
  1. Strengthening Culture of Inclusivity and Belonging. Over the course of the last five years, the Center has grown exponentially. We are working to create ways to not only innovate and improve the operations of the growing organization, but to build an inclusive workplace culture, where everyone is an equal collaborator, regardless of their role. And, as an organization that wants everyone on staff to thrive professionally, we are working to create initiatives to improve work/life balance. 
  1. Creating Equitable Structures, Policies, and Practices. Recognizing the importance of building organizational structures that empower all staff, we are reassessing a variety of our policies and procedures. The end result will put deliberate processes in place that give staff the autonomy to fully do their work, develop their ideas, and eliminate structural bottlenecks. Further, an evolution of our HR practices is already underway to support each staff member’s professional development and career growth opportunities.
  1. Building Conscious Leadership, Management, and Decision-Making. Understanding that being leaders in nonprofit journalism is a journey, not a destination, this working group aims to improve everyone’s ability to be a leader and manager who reflects our values of being inclusive, equitable, flexible and empowering. This takes place against a backdrop of expanding our current mentorship program and employee performance evaluation process to better fit the needs of staff and their long-term career trajectory within our organization. 
  1. Centering DEI in Journalism. While we have made a lot of ground in producing journalism that is focused on DEI and accessibility for all, we continue to improve DEI within our reporting, which includes an internal structure that empowers reporters and editors, to pursue the stories that are important to them, to our readers, and to our state. We have implemented – and continue to improve – processes that diversify our sources and further understand and empathize with those sources. 

Creating change now

But we aren’t waiting for the working groups to implement these changes. As we look towards the future, some of the DEI initiatives we have enacted recently include:

  • Implementing features on our website which allow users to easily translate our stories from English to Spanish or Hmong.
  • Creating audio versions of Wisconsin Watch stories, and making them available through all major podcast streaming services. These audio stories have been shared with the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities and the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition. 
  • Developing a source demographics survey, which is sent to every person quoted in our stories to track race and ethnicity, gender and location, as well as additional demographic information the sources voluntarily share. 
  • Piloting a source demographic WordPress plugin that provides data on gender, expert status, and whether a source is white or a person of color. 
  • Continuing our relationships with freelancers of color, including photographers, to purposefully and thoughtfully cover their own communities.
  • Striving to reach a broad network of candidates for all our open positions, to increase diversity in our hiring practices.
  • Enhancing our reporting that exposes wrongdoing and addresses societal shortcomings that have a disproportionate impact on people of color statewide, such as with our Color of Money series, which examined Wisconsin’s stark racial disparities in wealth and income. 
  • Through our News414 service journalism initiative, in partnership with the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, addressing the specific issues, interests, perspectives and information gaps identified by Black and brown residents of central city Milwaukee neighborhoods, especially zip codes 53206 and 53215. The project uses targeted text messages in English and Spanish, e-mail, and social media posts to provides information on topics like food security, housing, employment, civil rights, public health and more, connecting residents with information they need, and helping to shape solutions to systemic inequities and racial disparities in Milwaukee.

Finally, we understand that white supremacy is a system that is deeply ingrained with every element of our society including journalism. We know that each of us as individuals, and as an organization as a whole, have work to do to address this history. Through our work, we will create journalism that is rooted in justice, liberation and equity for all.

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The byline "Wisconsin Watch" represents members of the Wisconsin Watch editorial and business staff.