Annual Report UW-Madison CENTER FOR JOURNALISM ETHICS, 2020-21


AND ONE PANDEMIC. Through a difficult year, we strengthened our commitment to fostering debate and promoting high standards in journalism ethics. We forged strategic partnerships, expanded existing initiatives and provided meaningful ways to engage with critical issues, such as election misinformation and disinformation, diversity and inclusion in newsrooms and the many challenges of doing local news now. Thank you for being a part of this work. We look forward to the year ahead.


Journalism in Extraordinary Times
Director Kathleen Bartzen Culver and student Tamia Fowlkes ('21) interview CBS News correspondent and Pulitzer Prize-winner Wesley Lowery.

On October 7, 2020, we hosted a virtual talk with CBS News correspondent Wesley Lowery on objectivity in journalism, diverse and inclusive newsrooms, and reporting on racial justice. Lowery also served as our virtual journalist-in-residence, sharing his insights with journalism students throughout the week.

Nearly 400 attendees and viewers

We can’t be on autopilot. We can’t conduct journalism in 2020 based on a rulebook written in 1980. Why? Because the players have changed, the actors have changed, the dynamics have changed. - Wesley Lowery
Conference: Journalism Ethics and Local News Now
Our innovations panel featured editors from the Salt Lake Tribune, WURD Radio, Texas Tribune and The Marshall Project.

This year our spring conference focused on Journalism Ethics and Local News Now. Hosted virtually on Friday, April 23, 2021, we welcomed keynote speaker and Nightline co-anchor Byron Pitts (ABC News) and gathered leading publishers to discuss news innovations that have the potential to sustain community-focused reporting.

More than 360 attendees and viewers

In conjunction with the conference, we produced four toolkits for local journalists seeking to ethically cover the critical issues of this moment. Focused on education, health care, the economy and public safety, these resources provide story ideas, local angles, lists of sources and expert interviews to aid in reporting on these important topics.


The Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics

Investigative reporters Margie Mason and Robin McDowell of the Associated Press won the 2021 Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics for a series that exposed widespread labor abuses in the global palm oil industry.

According to Lucas Graves, UW–Madison associate professor and chair of the Shadid Award judging committee, "These journalists brought to light the rampant injustices undergirding the $65 billion palm oil industry. Their investigation is a masterclass in ethics and integrity, and shows how conscientious reporting can make a tremendous difference in the world."

Our virtual award ceremony on May 10 featured a keynote from UW–Madison alum and renowned photojournalist Lynsey Addario. In an interview conducted by award-winning journalist David Maraniss, Addario talked about photojournalism ethics, current projects and her memories of working with the late Anthony Shadid.

More than 250 attendees and viewers

Launching The Shadid Curriculum
Screen shot of a portion of The Shadid Curriculum. Top photo: Anthony Shadid speaks with journalism students on a visit to the UW–Madison campus in 2010.

This was also the year we created and launched the Shadid Curriculum. These case studies draw from the outstanding journalism of those who have won or been named a finalist of the Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics and encourage student journalists to place themselves in the position of making difficult journalistic decisions.

Original Reporting on Journalism Ethics

In fall 2020, we joined with the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism to launch the non-partisan Election Integrity Project. The Project provided guidance to journalists and citizens on dealing with election misinformation and disinformation online and aimed to counteract efforts that could strip citizens of their power through investigative reporting on voting issues.

Created in collaboration with the non-profit First Draft and supported by Craig Newmark Philanthropies. the Project resulted in significant media attention and was recognized with a silver award from Milwaukee Press Club in the category of best online public service series.

The Election Integrity Project reached up to 270,000 print readers and 2,000,000 online readers.

An infographic showing the counties where local news organizations re-published Election Integrity Project reporting on election misinformation and disinformation in fall 2020. A total of 108 news organizations published the project's stories.

This year, four student fellows worked hard under difficult circumstances to produce original reporting on issues in media ethics, writing about plain language translation, covering protests, the use of reenactments, the future of opinion journalism, election coverage and more. Contributors Natalie Yahr and Howard Hardee also wrote about such topics as reporting on child abuse, journalist trauma and covering Indigenous affairs.

Yahr's "Beware the blindspots: what a 1958 police killing can teach news outlets about themselves" and Hardee's "One step ahead: preparing reporters before they're targeted by disinformation and online harassment campaigns" were the top two most-read stories of the year.


Talking & Partnering on Ethics

Center director Kathleen Bartzen Culver addressed media ethics in 20 local, national and international news outlets, with many of those interviews focused on journalism ethics and the 2020 U.S. election.

Culver in a Washington Post story on the decision by "The Plain Dealer" to not cover lies from politicians: “They have a responsibility to serve the public interest. And giving a platform to things that are not true does not serve that public interest.”

We also partnered with several new collaborators on projects and events focused on election misinformation and disinformation and ethical protest coverage.

New partnerships and collaborators