Wisconsin Watch took home 10 awards from the Milwaukee Press Club's Excellence in Wisconsin Journalism competition on Friday, May 12, 2023. From left are intern Hope Karnopp, Statehouse Bureau Chief Matthew DeFour, Managing Editor Dee J. Hall, Executive Director Andy Hall, reporter Jacob Resneck and reporting fellow Zhen Wang. (Courtesy of Wisconsin Watch)
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Wisconsin Watch’s 2022 coverage of issues including casino gambling, false child abuse allegations, the state of abortion after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the baby formula shortage and culture wars that erupted in Kiel, Wisconsin won top honors Friday in the Milwaukee Press Club’s Excellence in Wisconsin Journalism competition. 

Open and Shut, Wisconsin Watch’s investigative podcast produced in collaboration with WPR, continued its winning streak, earning best original podcast in the contest.

The podcast already has been honored by the American Bar Association and with a regional Edward R. Murrow Award. And Wisconsin Watch’s Phoebe Petrovic, host and reporter for the podcast, and freelance producer Nina Earnest are finalists for a national Livingston Award for top journalists under the age of 35 for their work on Open and Shut.  

The honors bring to more than 140 the number of awards Wisconsin Watch has won in the state’s premier all-media competition. Some of the stories were reported in collaboration with Wisconsin Watch reporting partners, including University of Wisconsin-Madison journalism students, WPR, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service and the Anchorage Daily News.

Here are the first-place gold winners:  

Best Business Story or Series

Mario Koran, Ilana Bar-av and Jim Malewitz reported and photographed a story examining the impact and future of casino gaming on the Ho-Chunk Nation’s economy. One tribal official commented on the need to diversify the nation’s revenue base: “We’ve got to get gaming out of our blood.” Wisconsin Watch later held a forum in Black River Falls in which Ho-Chunk citizens called for more transparency from their government — and for more support for entrepreneurship. The story was produced in collaboration with Indian Country Today.

A blackjack table is seen at Ho-Chunk Gaming Black River Falls in Black River Falls, Wis., on Feb. 9, 2022. “When we see anything less profitable, there’s a thought of, ‘Is it worth it?’”, said Ho-Chunk Nation President Marlon WhiteEagle of his tribe’s investment in casinos. (Ilana Bar-av for Wisconsin Watch)

Best Investigative Story or Series

Brenda Wintrode and Hope Karnopp of Wisconsin Watch and Michelle Theriault Boots of the Anchorage Daily News took top honors for the series, Flawed Forensics, which documents how a former University of Wisconsin pediatrician wrongly diagnosed at least a dozen children as abused — and the heart-rending consequences that followed.

Best Explanatory Story or Series

Phoebe Petrovic explored the impact of Wisconsin’s “tangled” abortion laws and the question of whether abortion is ever medically necessary, the varying interpretations of Wisconsin’s 173-year-old abortion ban, whether even children who are victims of sexual assault could have abortions; a comprehensive guide to the abortion-related stances of 2022 candidates and their endorsements by major anti-abortion rights groups. Petrovic also examined Wisconsin’s “punitive” fetal protection law and how a more compassionate model could accomplish the same goals.

Best Consumer Story or Series   

Hope Karnopp of Wisconsin Watch and Matt Martinez of Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service teamed up to explore the baby formula crisis in Wisconsin. Karnopp explained how the single-source system of government-subsidized formula exacerbated the shortage. Martinez explored how families could get the types of formula their infants need. Karnopp followed up with a story about how families could navigate the lingering shortage

Raquel Urbina feeds her daughter Adaliz Angeles on June 24, 2022 at their home in Milwaukee. Urbina is an administrator of the Milwaukee Formula Parents Facebook group, which allows its 3,000-plus members to swap tips about how to obtain baby formula during a national shortage in recent months. Searching for formula feels like a “treasure hunt,” Urbina says. (Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch)

Best Original Podcast

The seven-part Open and Shut investigative podcast and online series exposes the gaps in the U.S. justice system that allow its most powerful actors to use their nearly unchecked authority to win questionable cases, convict the innocent and pervert the pursuit of justice. The podcast from Wisconsin Watch and WPR was inspired by reporting spanning 20 years on how a pair of Wisconsin prosecutors misused their authority with tragic consequences. Phoebe Petrovic was the host, reporter and producer with additional reporting, technical production and support from nearly two dozen other Wisconsin Watch and WPR staff members and freelancers. The project was produced as part of the NEW (Northeast Wisconsin) News Lab, a consortium of six news outlets covering northeastern Wisconsin.

Best Explanatory Story or Series (online)

Mario Koran’s three-part series on Kiel, Wisconsin showed how culture wars that erupted over racial and anti-trans bullying of students threatened to dismantle democracy in the community. Bomb threats closed the community’s schools, Kiel school board members were ousted and a Black student was forced to transfer to a district 45 minutes away. One Kiel resident told Koran:  “I feel like my town has been hijacked.” The series also was a NEW News Lab project.

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)

Second-place silver honors were earned in the following categories:

Best Public Service Story or Series           

Reporters Matt Mencarini, Phoebe Petrovic, Jacob Resneck and Matthew DeFour took silver honors for Wisconsin Watch’s Democracy on the Ballot series, which recounted threats to Wisconsin’s elections and democracy including extreme partisan gerrymandering, intimidated poll workers and disenfranchised voters.

Best Explanatory Story or Series

WPR producer Jenny Peek, in collaboration with Wisconsin Watch, won for her story showing how the lack of paid parental leave was fueling the labor shortage and anxiety among working parents. Despite broad public support, the United States is the only country among 41 European Union and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations that fails to guarantee paid parental leave. Just one in four American workers had the benefit in 2021.

Third-place bronze honors went to the following coverage:

Wisconsin Watch Executive Director Andy Hall speaks with Wisconsin Watch reporting fellow Zhen Wang and former Wisconsin Watch reporting intern Natalie Yahr, who is now a reporter for The Capital Times in Madison, Wis., at the 2023 Milwaukee Press Club Gridiron Awards Dinner. (Courtesy of Terry Shelton)
Wisconsin Watch Executive Director Andy Hall speaks with Wisconsin Watch reporting fellow Zhen Wang and former Wisconsin Watch reporting intern Natalie Yahr, who is now a reporter for The Capital Times in Madison, Wis., at the 2023 Milwaukee Press Club Gridiron Awards Dinner. (Courtesy of Terry Shelton)

Best Multi-Story Coverage of a Single Feature Topic or Event

UW-Madison journalism students in collaboration with Wisconsin Watch produced a multipart series, Beyond Hunger. The students examined the problem of food insecurity in Wisconsin, including barriers to obtaining and keeping federal food assistance, the impact of free school meals, efforts to bring fresh food to Wisconsin’s food deserts and the barriers to reducing food waste.

Best Business Story or Series

Wisconsin Watch’s Zhen Wang won bronze for her story documenting the toll of Long COVID on Wisconsin’s workforce. At least half a million people in Wisconsin have been hobbled to one extent or another by Long COVID, Wang found, leading to worker shortages, financial hardships and, in some cases, loss of jobs.

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