Wisconsin Watch criminal justice reporting project manager Phoebe Petrovic attends a press conference at The Park Hotel in Madison, Wis., on Oct. 2, 2019. Brendan Dassey's lawyers filed a petition for clemency with Gov. Tony Evers, claiming he gave a coerced confession at the age of 16 for a crime he didn't commit. (Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch)
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Wisconsin Watch reporter Phoebe Petrovic and freelance podcast producer Nina Earnest are finalists for the 2023 Livingston Awards honoring early-career journalists, the Wallace House Center for Journalists and the University of Michigan announced Friday.

The journalists are being recognized in the local reporting category for their work on Open and Shut, a seven-part podcast that focuses on the power of prosecutors in the criminal justice system.

The Livingston Awards honor the best reporting and storytelling by journalists under the age of 35 across all forms of journalism nationwide. The finalist selections were chosen from more than 450 entries for work released in 2022.

Freelance podcast producer Nina Earnest is a finalist for the 2023 Livingston Awards, recognizing her work as a producer on Open and Shut, a seven-part podcast by Wisconsin Watch and WPR that focuses on the power of prosecutors in the criminal justice system. (Courtesy of Nina Earnest)

“Phoebe and Nina’s body of work includes the Open and Shut podcast, a joint project of Wisconsin Watch and WPR that already has received national attention from the American Bar Association for its contribution to public understanding of the U.S. legal system,” Wisconsin Watch Managing Editor Dee J. Hall said. “Being named as Livingston finalists is just one more piece of evidence that Phoebe and Nina truly are national-caliber early-career journalists.”

A former Wisconsin Watch intern was also named a finalist: Mia Sato, a reporter for The Verge who worked at Wisconsin Watch in 2016 and 2017 while attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Sato is being recognized in the international reporting category for her story Ukrainian Influencers Bring the Frontlines to TikTok.

“This year’s finalists and the issues they pursued affirm the commitment of young reporters to tackle the toughest of stories,” said Lynette Clemetson, director of the awards and the Wallace House Center for Journalists. “The breathtaking range of this exceptional work demonstrates the unique ability of journalism to make us stop, take notice, bear witness, and expect accountability.”

Winners will be announced on June 13. The full slate of finalists and their work can be found here.

Open and Shut exposes the gaps in the U.S. justice system that allow prosecutors, 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 was inspired by reporting spanning 20 years on how a pair of Wisconsin prosecutors misused their authority with tragic consequences.

The podcast launched in April 2022 featuring two district attorneys, Vince Biskupic and Joe Paulus, who had a close personal and professional relationship during their tenure as politically ambitious prosecutors in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley. The podcast was part of the NEW News Lab, a collaboration of six news outlets, including Wisconsin Watch and WPR, producing journalism focused on Northeast Wisconsin. 

Wisconsin Watch’s team on the podcast included Petrovic, who served as reporter, host and producer; producer Nina Earnest; reporter and digital story editor Hall; editor Karen Given; production assistants Enjoyiana Nururdin and Clare Amari; and Coburn Dukehart, digital project manager and Wisconsin Watch’s associate director.

The WPR team included digital editors Alyssa Allemand and David Hyland; technical director Brad Kolberg; music director Karl Christenson; art director John Thomas Nichols; marketing specialist Angela Woodward; and digital designers Amanda Starich, Anna Rueden and Jane Jiumaleh.

Legal review for Open and Shut was provided by Christa Westerberg and Aaron Dumas of the Pines Bach law firm in Madison. Additional support was provided by Wisconsin Watch Executive Director Andy Hall and intern Madeline Heim and volunteer sound engineer Wesley Lethem. Noah Ovshinsky, WPR’s interim senior content director, and reporter Bridgit Bowden provided additional support. 

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