Since its founding in 2009, Wisconsin Watch has become a trusted source of in-depth, nonpartisan news that is seen by millions of people each year in Wisconsin and across the nation. Through a partnership with the Associated Press and using Wisconsin Watch’s statewide distribution system, these stories reach the audiences of hundreds of news outlets each year, in addition to the audience at Our guiding values: Protect the vulnerable. Expose wrongdoing. Explore solutions to problems.

View the awards Wisconsin Watch has won for our reporting and photography, and see examples of our impact below:


Wisconsin Watch’s stories continue to set the standard in Wisconsin — and nationally — for high-quality, impactful journalism.

Between Jan. 1 and May 31, 2023, Wisconsin Watch reporters produced 43 major reports. Our staff is larger and more experienced than it was a year ago — and it shows. Some of these stories were hard-hitting investigations. Others were pieces that held the powerful accountable. Other reports gave context to an urgent or complicated issue.

Highlights from the first half of 2023 include:

Investigating forced labor

Zhen Wang’s tip-of-the-spear story on how Milwaukee Tool is using forced Chinese prison labor earning pennies a day to make gloves for the Brookfield-based company has gotten the attention of the State Department, which contacted the U.S.-based wife of a dissident featured in the story. Recently, Walmart announced it was suspending sale of the gloves at its stores.

And  at a July 11, 2023 Congressional hearing, a Homeland Security senior official said its investigation agency is looking into the link between the use of forced labor in the Chinese prison and MKE Tool gloves to be shipped to the US.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which convenes the hearing, has sent a letter to the president of Milwaukee Tool on problems the commission has seen based on our reporting.

“Wisconsin Watch investigative reports on this, and findings are very very damaging,” said the chairman.

Hearing: Corporate Complicity: Subsidizing the PRC’s Human Rights Violations – YouTube


Shi Minglei, the wife of an imprisoned Chinese human rights activist Cheng Yuan, fled to the United States in 2021 and now lives in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. She is calling for Brookfield-Wis.-based Milwaukee Tool to stop sourcing gloves made from forced prison labor in China. A Milwaukee Tool spokesperson says the company has “found no evidence to support” allegations about forced labor. Shi is shown in Minneapolis on Feb. 19, 2023. (Ariana Lindquist for Wisconsin Watch)

Internal probes at the Sheboygan Police Department

In a joint investigation with The Sheboygan Press, Phoebe Petrovic uncovered a long-secret series of internal probes at the Sheboygan Police Department that found a sprawling sexual harassment scandal involving 1 out of every 5 officers in the department. The reporting found female officers were treated more harshly than male colleagues participating in the same behavior and that the human resources director and the head of the city’s Police and Fire Commission were largely left in the dark about the allegations. The stories prompted the resignation of the most egregious offending officer two days after the story broke and vows by city officials to better respond to and prevent such misconduct.

Phoebe received several messages of gratitude from Sheboygan citizens, and organizations have called for accountability from the police department. This was a NEW News Lab story.

Voting systems called out for gaps

Matthew DeFour also found that the system for removing people found incompetent to vote had several gaps, leaving openings for election deniers to claim widespread voter fraud.

After the story was published, he received a call from the mother of a mentally incapacitated voter whose name is on the state’s ineligible voter list, but has somehow voted 16 times since 2010. They are now in the process of fixing that in the court system after realizing an error when he was initially placed under guardianship.

Kiel residents rebuke far-right school officials

Mario Koran followed up his excellent 2022 coverage of the culture wars over race and LGBTQ+ rights in Kiel, Wisconsin with a story showing how residents had begun to wrest power from a small cohort of “extremist” officials who had “hijacked” the local school board. This was one of our NEW News Lab stories.

In January, we received a letter from Kiel resident Oliver Kornetzke to express his “satisfaction and gratitude” for the reporting.

“His reporting, without a doubt, helped save our community by allowing the citizens of Kiel – armed with the truth – pull away from the grips of a small fringe group of very hateful individuals.

“I firmly believe that without Mario’s work, the situation in Kiel would very much look different. Our community could very much be in a much darker place where misinformation and lies run rampant.”

Amy and Dan Wempner pose with their 18-year-old son Armond at their home in Kiel, Wis., on June 2, 2022. After discovering racist Snapchat messages directed at Armond before his junior year of high school, the family pushed the Kiel Area School District to respond. A plan to offer anti-racism training prompted backlash from white parents who accused the school of promoting critical race theory, an academic concept that conservative activists have politically weaponized. (Lianne Milton for Wisconsin Watch)

Wisconsinites pay the price for pollution they didn’t cause

Intern Erin Gretzinger revealed how state laws do not protect property owners when they unwittingly buy land that is contaminated, later highlighting a bipartisan effort to change that.

Great Lakes pollution threatens Ojibwe treaty rights to fish

Bennet Goldstein, reporting with the Mississippi River Ag & Water Desk, produced a three-part series and photos exploring how growing water contamination in the Great Lakes is eroding the Ojibwe Tribe’s treaty fishing rights.

After this story published, a professor at the Medill School of Journalism and Center for Native American & Indigenous Research at Northwestern University shared the following message: 

“I just wanted to tell you what a really, really fine job you did on these stories. The organization and writing was terrific, but the framing! You really captured and communicated an Indigenous world view in a way I rarely (if ever) see in mainstream reporting. I delivered a speech today to an environmental group and shared a link to that story and told them to read it before they did collaborative work.

Really, really well done. I’m going to share it with my colleagues at Medill as an example. Thank you for the work you put into your report. It definitely showed.”

Commercial fisher Donny Livingston, a citizen of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, picks cisco from gillnets after lifting them from Lake Superior on Nov. 15, 2022. (Bennet Goldstein / Wisconsin Watch)

Wisconsin Supreme Court race: Anti-trans ads

A story written by reporter Phoebe Petrovic explained how anti-trans ads that favored state Supreme Court candidate Daniel Kelly spread misinformation and peddled fear.

This story received feedback from Wisconsinites, along with journalists at the national level. 

A Sheboygan resident shared local anti-trans sentiments spreading around in her community to show the “trickle down” effect of the movement against trans kids, thanking Wisconsin Watch for informing the public on misinformation.
This story was also shared on Twitter by journalists Erin Reed, Melissa Gira Grant and Katelyn Burns.  Grant applauded Wisconsin Watch’s coverage, calling it “the most thorough coverage of anti-trans politics” in the state.

Fact-checking claims

Our fact-checking project with Gigafact continues to produce some of’s most-read content. In 2023, intern Erin Gretzinger and freelancers Tom Kertscher and Jacob Alabab-Moser produced 132 fact briefs in the first six months of the year. In May, three of our top 10 stories were fact briefs.

In February, we published a fact brief fact checking a claim that state Supreme Court candidate Daniel Kelly said supporting same-sex marriage “robs marriage of any meaning.”

This fact brief was cited in an attack ad on Kelly. It was also cited in a Vanity Fair piece that outlined the historic Supreme Court election in Wisconsin.


Wisconsin Watch expanded in 2022 to bring Wisconsinites more news they need on issues they care about. We added a three-person statehouse team to investigate threats to Wisconsin’s democracy, which includes an Oshkosh-based reporter who focuses on workplace democracy. We hired a reporter to cover western Wisconsin as part of the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk. We added a second reporter in Milwaukee to further our partnership with Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, fueled by the American Journalism Project, to rebuild local news in Milwaukee and statewide. We also expanded our business team to add expertise in audience, fundraising, operations and finance. We joined the Associated Press to bring readers more daily news to complement Wisconsin Watch’s deep-dive stories. We added a fact-checking feature in partnership with Gigafact. And we increasingly publish stories from trusted partners at the NEW (Northeast Wisconsin) News Lab, Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk and other nonprofits such as the Energy News Network, Grist and Kaiser Health News. An estimated 49.9 million people saw our stories on and in the 280 news outlets that picked up our reports — double our audience from 2021.

Highlights from 2022 include:

Democracy on the Ballot

In 2022 we produced the award-winning Democracy on the Ballot series to alert voters to critical issues at play in the 2022 election. We showed how gerrymandering produced even more skewed voting maps than ever. We exposed which candidates had “stop the steal” sentiments — and how they hid those statements from voters. We showed how thousands of jail inmates are eligible to vote, but many jails don’t help them cast ballots. Wisconsin Watch examined claims of voter and election fraud — used by activists to urge mass purging of voter rolls — but found only a smattering of questionable votes.

Wisconsin curbs deadly driving

Jonah Chester investigated how state bureaucracy hinders local efforts to curb deadly driving on urban highways in Milwaukee. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation later approved plans to reconfigure part of Milwaukee’s Appleton Avenue, a dangerous urban highway. Calling it a victory for pedestrian safety, Milwaukee Ald. Michael Murphy said WisDOT typically does not support such projects.

Attack on ‘critical race theory’

In 2022, Mario Koran exposed the roots of culture wars over racial discrimination and bullying of a trans student that gripped Kiel, Wisconsin. Citizens fought back; two school board members who fanned the flames of the conflict resigned. “I cannot overstate the importance to and impact his reporting has had on my own community,” one reader wrote. “Prior to his reporting, there was virtually no coverage on the facts. Misinformation and lies ran rampant with negative real-world consequences for both our public institutions and local democracy. … His reporting, without a doubt, helped save our community by allowing the citizens of Kiel — armed with the truth — to pull away from the grip of a small fringe group of very hateful individuals.”

Open and Shut

The Open and Shut podcast hosted by Phoebe Petrovic exposed the gaps in the U.S. justice system that allow its most powerful actors to use nearly unchecked authority to win questionable cases, convict the innocent and pervert the pursuit of justice. The podcast from Wisconsin Watch and Wisconsin Public Radio draws on 20 years of reporting on Wisconsin prosecutors who misused their authority with tragic consequences. One listener from Appleton told WPR the podcast was “incredible investigative journalism” that brought “things to light that happened right in my front yard!” Numerous people have contacted Wisconsin Watch with allegations similar to those described in the podcast.

Fact briefs

In 2022, Wisconsin Watch launched Gigafact fact briefs, 140-word fact checks that use a “yes/no” format to answer questions. Fact briefs are designed to bolster correct claims made on social media and to debunk false ones to head off the spread of misinformation. We published nearly 200 of these briefs in 2022, producing critical fact checks just before Wisconsin’s high-stakes gubernatorial and U.S. Senate elections. These bite-sized fact checks became among the most read items on

Flawed Forensics

This award winning series profiled an Alaska couple accused by Dr. Barbara Knox of abusing their 3-week-old daughter, who suffered from significant birth injuries. That was followed days later by the news that Knox was resigning from her position as Alaska’s top child abuse pediatrician. Knox had been on leave after allegations of bullying and misdiagnosis — similar to charges made during her tenure at the University of Wisconsin. After we profiled another case in which Knox accused a defendant of abuse, Joshua Gehde of Madison, Wis., got new lawyers who volunteered to file a federal petition for his release. And the Alaska family sued Knox for her alleged wrongful diagnosis, which caused the couple to lose custody of their two young children for nearly a year.


Embattled former UW child abuse pediatrician resigns Alaska position

Days after Wisconsin Watch and the Anchorage Daily News reported on a couple who lost custody of their two young children after Dr. Barbara Knox wrongly diagnosed their 3-week-old baby as being abused, Knox resigned from her position leading Alaska’s forensic child abuse clinic. The story of how Knox upended the lives of multiple parents and caregivers after she wrongly diagnosed children’s illnesses or accidental injuries as abuse is chronicled in our series Flawed Forensics.

Former University of Wisconsin Dr. Barbara Knox has resigned as medical director of Alaska’s forensic child abuse clinic. Knox has been on leave from Alaska CARES since the fall after a wave of departures that included every member of the medical staff other than Knox. (Claire DeRosa / Wisconsin Watch and University of Wisconsin file photo)

Nearly 200 Wisconsin officers back on the job after being fired or forced out

Rep. Moore Omokunde uses Wandering Cops article as supportive information to continue pressing for a bill that creates a freeze period during which police cannot avoid scrutiny by switching departments

Could ‘baby bonds’ close Wisconsin’s racial wealth gap?

Sen. Melissa Agard had no intention of proposing baby bonds when she was interviewed in the spring of 2021 for this story, and then in summer 2021 it became part of a Democratic economic security proposal. We updated the story just before publication to reflect the news.

FEMA offers generous funeral aid to those grieving COVID-19 deaths. Getting it isn’t easy.

The subject of our story about funeral aid got her financial aid after our story ran.

‘I cried for days’: Wisconsin blocks pandemic payments for federal disability aid recipients

After Bram Sable-Smith, the WPR Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Reporting Fellow, reported on Wisconsin blocking disability payments during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. Baldwin, Sen. Moore, Sen. Kind and Sen. Pocan wrote to the U.S. Department of Labor to provide clarity about the eligibility of Wisconsin recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which was provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This occurred after Wisconsin Secretary of Workforce Development (DWD) Caleb Frostman requested guidance from DOL on the same issue.

Bram Sable-Smith, WPR Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Reporting Fellow, reports from the COVID unit at the UW Hospital on Nov. 17, 2020. Smith was awarded a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for his series Costly Care, which investigated the impact of medical debt on people in Wisconsin and looked at how and why hospitals have continued to sue patients, even during a pandemic. Angela Major / WPR

Impact from the Cannabis Question Series

Cannabis is seen growing in Leafline Labs headquarters, in Cottage Grove, Minn., April 18, 2019. The 42,000-square-foot indoor cultivation and production facility is used to grow marijuana for medical uses and create various pharmaceutical cannabis products. Emily Hamer / Wisconsin Watch

In 2019 Wisconsin Watch reported what would happen if the state were to legalize marijuana. Gov. Tony Evers proposed recreation marijuana legalization in his 2021-2023 biennial budget proposal, and our reporting was cited in news articles about Ever’s actions.


In 2020, Wisconsin Watch produced 81 major reports — nearly three times as many stories as a typical year. Forced by the pandemic to abandon the offices at the UW-Madison journalism school in mid-March 2020, the Wisconsin Watch staff worked tirelessly to investigate disinformation, Wisconsin’s failing unemployment system, the impact of crushing medical debt, Wisconsin’s often-flawed response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and problems in the state’s election system. In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, we examined calls for racial justice and how police can better respond to protests to minimize violence, what “defunding” the police would look like in Milwaukee, the factors leading to the deadly protest in Kenosha — including the decision by police to work with armed militia members. These stories were picked up by 401 news outlets, reaching an estimated 43 million people. The Milwaukee Press Club has awarded Wisconsin Watch 12 awards for our 2020 coverage, and along with WPR, we were honored with a regional Edward R. Murrow Award

Also in 2020, Wisconsin Watch and the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service launched the Google News Initiative-funded News414 project. This innovative free news-by-text service helps fill information and accountability gaps in Milwaukee’s Black- and brown-majority neighborhoods. News414 provides information to 2,100 subscribers, helping vulnerable residents navigate often-complicated systems to access services they need. In the early months of News414, the effort helped a father get free beds for his children.

Information provided by News414 also has also helped residents access thousands of dollars in rental assistance and provided tips for staving off eviction. “Thank you for all the information and supporting the community,” one renter texted last year after receiving $1,420 in rental assistance. In recent months, News414 began translating texts, social media outreach and stories into Spanish. These provided crucial information to residents of Milwaukee and statewide, including that undocumented state residents are eligible for significant pandemic-related rental assistance, and that proof of legal residency or insurance are not required to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

‘You’ve been served’: Wisconsin hospitals sue patients over debt — even during pandemic

Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee is seen on Nov. 1, 2019. Gretchen Brown / WPR

Bram Sable-Smith reported in April 2020 on how Wisconsin hospitals were suing patients over medical debts even during the pandemic. Five days later, two of those hospitals dismissed some of those suits, and members of the public offered to help those who had been sued by their health care providers.

Study: Poll closings, COVID-19 fears, kept many Milwaukee voters away

A press release put out by the mayors of five Wisconsin cities cited a Wisconsin Watch tweet of Dee J. Hall’s report covering Milwaukee residents who were dissuaded to vote in the April 7th election. The mayors of Madison, Kenosha, Green Bay, Milwaukee and Racine “successfully secured a combined $6.3 million in nonprofit grants to fund the “Wisconsin Safe Voting Plan.” The grants, awarded by the nonpartisan Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), will help each municipality administer elections this year in the midst of the deadly coronavirus pandemic,” and used the tweet to show how not to run an election in Wisconsin during a pandemic.

Blacks arrested for pot possession at four times the rate of whites in Wisconsin

A Wisconsin Watch report was cited in a dissent issued by Justice Brian Hagedorn to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision overturning the state’s Stay at Home order extension for COVID-19. Hagedorn compared the broad authority that Gov. Tony Evers had to enact the order to that of prosecutors, who “are given vast discretion in choosing whether to file a criminal complaint, and which crimes to charge.” As noted in the story, the Dane County district attorney directed law enforcement not to bring him cases based on possession of small amounts of marijuana.


“Los Lecheros” (Dairy Farmers) was co-produced with Jim Cricchi and Susan Peters of Twelve Letter Films in 2017. It has screened at 25 film festivals, made the IDA shortlist and won a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award.

Los Lecheros

The Wisconsin Humanities Council is using Los Lecheros (Dairy Farmers), our 21-minute documentary, as a catalyst for community immigration discussions. A blog post about their efforts reads, “Who are these undocumented people? We need the story. Los Lecheros takes you into a Wisconsin dairy barn to talk to undocumented workers and the farmer who employs them.”

Dozens of people attended the community events in Dubuque, Verona and Darlington, with additional events scheduled. Some grew up on dairy farms and shared a similar plight in having difficulty finding people able and interested in farming. 

Blacks arrested for pot possession at four times the rate of whites in Wisconsin

After Wisconsin Watch reported in 2019 about how black people are arrested at four times the rate of white people in Wisconsin, Sen. Fred A. Risser along with Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Reps. Sheila Stubbs, David Crowley and Dave Considine introduced legislation that would decriminalize 25 grams or less of marijuana in the state of Wisconsin. In his press release, Risser cited Wisconsin Watch’s report.


Asian restaurants and Chicago employment agencies accused of exploiting Latino workers in Midwest

Alexandra Arriaga / Chicago Sun-Times

Mattresses, furniture and litter are scattered below the 18th Street Bridge adjacent to Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood. It’s here, “debajo del puente,” that many Latino men who are shuffled between low-wage, long-hour jobs at Asian restaurants settle in at night when they cannot afford to stay at an employment agency or hotel. Photo taken Sept. 18, 2018. Alex Arriaga / Wisconsin Watch

The job agency in Chicago’s Chinatown accused of exploiting Latino workers ceased operations under a consent decree approved by a federal court judge. The court-ordered closure came just days after the Chicago Sun-Times and Wisconsin Watch published a special report putting the spotlight on Xing Ying and other agencies accused of exploiting undocumented workers. Four days after the report was published, the U.S. Department of Labor announced an initiative to help restaurants in Wisconsin comply with wage laws.

How tort reform bill changed state law

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Daniel Bice wrote a column titled “Sen. Leah Vukmir and Democrats clash over impact of nursing home law she supported.” The column mentions Wisconsin Watch’s 2011 report on tort reform law which showed how the law “has made it more difficult to hold nursing homes accountable for wrongdoing by keeping this crucial evidence out of court.”

Secret cash aided politicians who rewrote Wisconsin law to block claims of lead-poisoned children

Wisconsin Watch published a report by Pawan Naidu explaining how big campaign donations increasingly influence politicians in Wisconsin. Pat Nash wrote a column, picked up by the Baraboo News Republic and at least five other news organizations, that mentioned and quoted our secret campaign cash coverage. It read, “Big money is fighting for Republicans to hold the majority in the state legislature.”

How hackers could attack Wisconsin’s elections and what state officials are doing about it

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Laurie Decker, municipal clerk for the village of Little Chute, Wis., left, talks with Rita Mollen, chief election inspector, during voting at the village hall for a special election in the 1st Senate District on June 12, 2018. The village had recently retired an older model of voting machine for the newer DS200 scanner and tabulator. Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

The Wisconsin Election Commission corrected one of the largest flaws in the state’s election-security program in a unanimous vote to revise their policy for voting-machine audits. By introducing the possibility that hacked results could be detected and corrected before election results were certified, audits became a security measure for the first time. Beginning later in 2018, the commission randomly selected 5% of all voting machines statewide on the day after the November general election and instructed municipal clerks to conduct public hand counts of those machines’ paper ballots in four key races. The audits were completed before election results are certified. 

In previous years, Wisconsin’s election officials audited only after they finalized results. This major flaw consistently put Wisconsin in the lower half of the 50 states’ election security rankings. Post-election audits using paper ballots are considered critical for election security because officials have no other way to detect Election-Day computer errors. Local officials can keep software secure while it is in their possession, but they have no way to assess whether it was adequately secured before then. Lack of IT expertise and the voting-machine manufacturers’ claims of proprietary secrecy prevent election officials from examining the software directly. Pre-election tests cannot prevent Election-Day computer errors or glitches, nor can they detect malicious code designed to operate only on Election Day. In August 2018, The Green Bay Press Gazette published a column titled “Give Wisconsin Elections Commission input on election security.” The column cited Wisconsin Watch’s coverage of election security in Wisconsin.

Facing the truth behind the statistics of sexual assault

Jamie Gilford, Clery Program director at University of Wisconsin Police Department, wrote an email to Wisconsin Watch Managing Editor Dee J. Hall and Digital and Multimedia Director Coburn Dukehart expressing her gratitude for our report covering campus sexual assaults. Gilford’s note said, “I wanted to say how much I appreciated the article you published in Madison Magazine in September. Sexual assault is always a challenging topic to cover and navigating the intersecting laws regarding report-tracking can be very disorienting for most people. I think you did an excellent job accurately explaining the data and fairly putting it into context. Quality journalism like this does much to advance our understanding of the prevalence of sexual assault in our communities, the actions we are taking to combat it, and all of the work we have left to do. As someone who also takes a professional interest in institutional transparency, thank you.”

After Gov. Scott Walker took office, bills moved faster through the Wisconsin Legislature

Wisconsin State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout wrote a column about the tactics used by majority party leadership to rush bills through the Legislature in Madison. Vinehout discussed how speed sacrifices public input and prevents thoughtful debate in the lawmaking process. The column heavily cited Wisconsin Watch’s coverage of the speed of lawmaking in Wisconsin. The column was picked up by news organizations across Wisconsin.

Wisconsin doubles GPS monitoring despite five years of malfunctions, unnecessary jailings

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Cody McCormick, 29, shows the GPS monitoring device he is required to wear as a result of a sex-related conviction while living in Minnesota. He says the device has severely impacted his life, banging up his ankle, prohibiting him from wearing shorts or swimming, tearing holes in three pairs of pants and is socially embarrassing. Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

The Badger Herald published a column titled “State’s GPS bracelet system inefficient, ineffective in monitoring offenders.” The column heavily cited Wisconsin Watch’s coverage of the state Department of Corrections’ GPS monitoring program. The stories showed that five years after Wisconsin Watch first revealed technical problems that were prompting offenders to be jailed when they had not committed any violations, some of the same problems remained.

Wisconsin taxpayers lose out on millions after Gov. Scott Walker, lawmakers repeal anti-fraud law

Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, introduced a bill to reinstate the state False Claims Act and restore the ability of a private individual or whistleblower, to bring a claim alleging Medicaid fraud. Wisconsin Watch had reported that the state was missing out on at least $11 million in reimbursements for alleged fraud after the Legislature quickly repealed the law in 2015.


Controversial debt buyers get a break under new Wisconsin law

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Sandra Goodwin, 56, is photographed at her home in Stoughton, Wis., on March 25, 2016. In the summer of 2015, Goodwin was sued by a debt buyer she had never heard of, Jefferson Capital Systems. The company had purchased her debt, which originated from an online school called The College Network. Goodwin is settling the case with the help of a pro bono lawyer. She says she was legally blind at the time she signed a promissory note agreeing to pay for an online class, which she thought she had cancelled. Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

WISDOM referenced our reporting in a July 2017 press release about the risks faced by Wisconsin consumers in regard to payday loans and called for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to issue a strong payday lending rule.


Precious lives series

Precious Lives was a collaborative project with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee Public Radio and 371 Productions covering gun violence on children in Milwaukee and across the state. Precious Lives received two gold awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, top honors from the National Association of Black Journalists and was a national finalist for the prestigious Peabody Award for broadcast journalism. Precious Lives stories were shared on social media by prominent organizations and figures such as National Public Radio, Reveal, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Rep. Mark Pocan and CNN correspondent Jake Tapper. The project was also featured in a segment on All Things Considered.

A tale of two states: Wisconsin trails Colorado as both cut solitary confinement

Jen Friedberg for Wisconsin Watch

This $200 million prison in Cañon City, Colorado was opened in 2010 exclusively to house prisoners in solitary confinement. It is now vacant because of the Colorado Department of Corrections decision to severely curtail use of isolation. Officials are considering turning the 948-bed facility into a reentry center to help inmates prepare for life after prison. Photo taken Jan. 29, 2016. Jen Friedberg / Wisconsin Watch

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections proposed a program for Wisconsin inmates similar to one highlighted in a Wisconsin Watch story in which Colorado prisoners in solitary confinement are allowed up to 20 hours a week out of their cells.

Strong public support, pleas from grieving family fail to move Wisconsin on gun background checks

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Rifles are seen on display at Ron Martin’s booth at the Badger Military Collectible Show in Waukesha, Wis., on Aug. 5, 2016. Martin has been a licensed gun dealer for 33 years. Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Alexandra Arriaga’s story on firearm background checks was featured on the front pages of 12 newspapers and prompted 10 columns/editorial responses. The story and its sidebars were picked up 56 times.


Failure at the faucet series

Wisconsin Watch’s Failure at the Faucet series sparked a statewide conversation on the risks to the state’s drinking water, leading to several pieces of legislation aimed boosting childhood lead testing and funding to replace aging lead pipes. The investigation revealed that hundreds of thousands of people in Wisconsin are at risk of drinking water with unsafe levels of nitrate, bacteria, arsenic, lead and other contaminants.

Gov. Tony Evers declared 2019 The Year of Clean Drinking Water, citing statistics from our series. Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, introduced a bill calling for tap water testing when a child is lead poisoned. Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, introduced the Leading on Lead Act, which facilitates the replacement of lead service lines delivering drinking water. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources updated water sampling protocols for operators of thousands of public water systems recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after Wisconsin Watch revealed a delay of nine months in the wake of the Flint, Michigan, lead water crisis.

Wisconsin Watch’s Failure at the Faucet series prompted other news organizations to customize reports based on our work, examining their local water systems in communities including Milwaukee, Stoughton and Eau Claire.

Wisconsin U.S. Sen.Tammy Baldwin cited our Failure at the Faucet investigations in a newsletter to her constituents, urging supporters to demand that “Congress prioritize the safety of our drinking water.”

In April 2016, John Oliver, a comedian and television personality, mentioned the Center’s investigation into lead pipes on his show, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” in a segment discussing issues of lead poisoning in the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Chris Johnson of the Freshwater for Life Action Coalition (FLAC) said his organization relied on data from the Center for its campaign, which seeks to pressure Milwaukee into getting rid of its lead pipes.

“The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ) was instrumental in sharing research data on lead in water and lead poisoning of children with FLAC,” Johnson said. “WCIJ was also instrumental in bringing attention to Milwaukee’s lead water crisis to a much broader audience when none of the other local media outlets would report about this issue. WCIJ was very impactful in bringing attention to this public health crisis.”


Waupun prison guards accused of abusing dozens of inmates

Lauren Fuhrmann / Wisconsin Watch

Waupun Correctional Institution has a drawn a large number of complaints from inmates alleging mistreatment by guards. Lauren Fuhrmann / Wisconsin Watch

Wisconsin Watch identified 40 allegations of physical or psychological abuse by correctional officers against inmates in Waupun Correctional Institution’s segregation unit since 2011. The investigation took five months and cost $40,000 — a tenth of the Center’s entire budget and resources that few Wisconsin news organizations would be able to muster. The series prompted an interfaith advocacy group to ask Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to investigate the abuse allegations. Saying that the series proved the state Department of Corrections “routinely engages in torture,” the group requested an independent investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice because the DOC “cannot be asked to investigate itself.” Six Democratic legislators wrote to Walker to demand action. The agency later revised its disciplinary rules, including the use of segregation.


Lost signals, disconnected lives

Lukas Keapproth / Wisconsin Watch

“There are times when I’m afraid to leave whatever room I’m in, even to go to the bathroom,” says James Morgan, who served 26 years in prison for sexual assault and other crimes. “I’m afraid an alert will go off and the police will show up at my door.” Lukas Keapproth / Wisconsin Watch

In response to our report on Wisconsin’s GPS tracking of offenders, the head of the Assembly Committee on Corrections called a legislative hearing to question the Department of Corrections. At the hearing, another legislator read aloud portions of Wisconsin Watch’s story when questioning the DOC’s director of sex offender programs. Citing the reporting as a factor, the state Legislature’s budget committee scaled back a planned expansion of the GPS monitoring program for offenders — and called for a study of the system’s reliability.

State passes up federal disabilities aid for jobless, despite backlogs

After we reported that Gov. Scott Walker was failing to apply for federal funds to help thousands of disabled state residents get job training and support, the governor reversed his position, accepting $15 million and eliminating a waiting list of 3,000 people with disabilities seeking to join the state labor force.


Wisconsin’s sand rush series

Our reporting on frac sand mining in Wisconsin created a rush of its own. Other news organizations locally and nationally jumped in to begin telling the story of this side effect of the controversial practice of “fracking.” The state DNRbegan to study the effects of sand mining on Wisconsin residents. And the state Department of Transportation has consulted our reporting in its effort to quantify the effects of the burgeoning sand rush on Wisconsin’s highways and railroads. Our frac sand project page remains a trusted source of information. In April 2015, we produced an innovative, entertaining video that uses grains of sand to summarize key issues in the nation’s No. 1 frac sand mining state.


Wisconsin milk board claims dairy aids weight loss

Kate Golden / Wisconsin Watch

Gov. Scott Walker said on Feb. 17 that a majority of the emails he’d received that week supported him, unlike the throngs that surrounded the Capitol for weeks (seen here March 12). The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism found that he was right — but that a third of the supportive emails came from out of state. Kate Golden / Wisconsin Watch

A group of University of Madison-Wisconsin students, led by Wisconsin Watch intern Amy Karon, exposed misleading nutrition claims by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s $30 million a year pro-dairy campaign. The state milk board removed from its website the misleading claim that eating dairy products can promote weight loss the day our story was published.

Analysis: Emails favored Walker 2-1

A computer-aided analysis of a sample of 50,000 e-mails sent to Gov. Scott Walker found Walker accurately said most were supportive — but a third of supporters were from other states. We discovered one message that came from an Indiana GOP activist and prosecutor who urged a “false flag” operation to fake a physical attack on the governor and discredit pro-union protesters. The follow-up story led to the immediate resignation of the Indiana prosecutor.

Supreme Court spat got physical

A collaborative investigation revealed allegations of a physical altercation between two Wisconsin Supreme Court justices in a nationally significant collective bargaining case. Separate legal and ethics investigations were launched to examine the Supreme Court incident, prompting calls to replace judicial elections with merit selection, and Justice David Prosser faced three ethics charges. JThe high court deadlocked on whether to discipline one of its own members.


Suffering in silence: Campus sexual assaults vastly underreported

Even before it was published, Wisconsin Watch’s story on campus sexual assaults prompted the University of Wisconsin-Madison dean of students to vow to improve the treatment of students who report abuse. University officials also created a webpage to improve public access to sexual assault data that previously were available only through public records requests.

For-profit college accused of operating illegally in Wisconsin

After our story on questionable tactics used by a for-profit college, Wisconsin regulators ordered Westwood College to halt enrollment until problems were corrected.

A Tribal Tragedy: High Native American suicide rates persist

Our story on the tragedy of high suicide rates among Native Americans in Wisconsin brought nationwide attention to the issue, and a former Menominee Reservation resident donated $5,000 to a local Boys & Girls Club.