At the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in San Antonio in late June, Hall participated in a “hastily arranged panel” that focused on what other investigative centers should do if they find themselves targeted by lawmakers. Hall and Lauren Fuhrmann, the center’s public engagement director, drew up a checklist detailing how other investigative outlets can “prepare and respond” to an attack.
Before the fact, much of the advice boils down to telling your newsroom’s story, accurately but assertively: develop a values statement, make 990s and other financial forms publicly available, tout the impact of your stories and the success of former interns, and put it all on a high-quality website. They also suggest that centers “nurture personal relationships” with their journalistic partners—editors, station managers, and others who use their work—by generously sharing credit and participating in conferences, parties, and ceremonies.
Should a legislative attack happen, centers must shift into red-alert emergency: “Drop everything else. This is your new life, at least for awhile,” Hall and Fuhrmann attest. They advise moving swiftly to post a statement, even if it has to be revised later, and assigning an employee to handle media requests on the issue. They recommend telling your story to anyone who will listen, including those who may seem “hostile to your newsroom—you may find that by speaking with them, you may develop some surprising allies.” To that point, they link to the Wisconsin Reporter, published by the conservative Franklin Center for Public Integrity, which posted a lengthy article that was sympathetic to WCIJ’s fight.
The fact that the four-year-old WCIJ could activate a diverse network of allies to respond to an unexpected and time-sensitive crisis attests to the respect it has earned. That support may have been pivotal in winning Walker’s veto—and it wasn’t conditional. Had the provision gone through, and WCIJ been homeless, its allies would have come through all the same: about 10 days ago, Hall told Capital Times that he had received “multiple generous offers” from across the state to house the center’s staff. Now, that won’t be necessary.
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