Annual Report UW-Madison CENTER FOR JOURNALISM ETHICS, 2019-2020


This was not the year we expected. The novel coronavirus has disrupted lives and livelihoods on a global scale and the Center, like so many other institutions, is grappling with how best to do our work in this difficult time. Ongoing Black Lives Matter protests also remind us of the significant and concrete changes we need to make to our journalistic practices, systems and newsrooms. In light of these realities, we've been busy working on adapting our work to the world we're living in now. Our foundational commitments -- to fostering debate and promoting high standards in journalism ethics -- remain the same. We will continue to provide meaningful ways of engaging on topics such as the ethics of local news, trauma-informed journalism and diversity and inclusion. Thank you for your support. Please keep in touch. – Katy Culver


On the Border and Beyond: Ethics and Immigration Reporting

On September 25, 2019, we brought together UW–Madison professor of labor education Armando Ibarra, New York Times reporter (and the Center's journalist-in-residence) Caitlin Dickerson and Borderless Magazine executive director Nissa Rhee for a conversation about the ethics of immigration journalism.

More than 120 attendees
Audience members during the Q&A portion of "On the Border and Beyond: Ethics and Immigration Reporting."
Conference: Journalism Ethics and the Crisis in Local News

We postponed our annual spring conference Journalism Ethics and the Crisis in Local News to April 23, 2021, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The topic is as important as ever. The pandemic is driving home the importance of local news issues just as newsrooms also face new economic challenges and ethical issues. Join us on April 23, 2021, as we welcome an impressive cadre of local news practitioners, innovators and experts searching for an ethical way forward.


The Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics

“The Quiet Rooms” by Lakeidra Chavis and Jodi S. Cohen of ProPublica and Jennifer Smith Richards of the Chicago Tribune won the 2020 Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics. Through careful work with vulnerable and traumatized children, Cohen, Chavis and Richards documented the unlawful use of seclusion and restraint in Illinois public schools, prompting state officials to impose an emergency ban on seclusion.

According to Lucas Graves, UW–Madison associate professor and chair of the Shadid Award judging committee, “Cohen, Chavis and Smith had to navigate a string of difficult decisions in exposing the pattern of abuse taking place across Illinois public schools, beginning with how to find out what children went through without traumatizing them all over again. This series sparked widespread reforms while also earning praise from both school supervisors and the families of children involved — a testament to how careful, thorough and honest the reporters were as they worked on the story.”

Original Reporting on Journalism Ethics

This year, seven Center for Journalism Ethics fellows wrote 12 stories with original reporting on issues in media ethics and prepared case studies on different approaches to local news in preparation for our conference "Journalism Ethics and the Crisis in Local News." Photo from left to right: Spring semester fellows Abigail Steinberg, Luke Verdecchia, Ellie Spadaccini, Fran Velazquez and Morgan Grunow.

Our most-read story was Natalie Yahr's "Doing no harm: crime writing that does justice to the beat."


Journalism Ethics Everywhere (and for Everyone)

Center director Kathleen Bartzen Culver addressed media ethics in over 30 local, national and international news outlets, with many of those interviews focused on journalism ethics and the 2020 U.S. election. A host of ethical considerations spurred by the novel coronavirus also led Culver to consult with journalists and advocates on such questions as whether to surreptitiously report on phone briefings and news organizations’ obligations to their own staffs on issues of health and safety.

Culver for POLITICO on One America News: “I would define one of the central characteristics of journalism as independence and here there is no independence. It is taking a source and bringing that source into the actual information gathering.”