It's fashionable these days to lament the demise of state government reporting, especially investigative stories. And yes, shrinking newsroom budgets have trimmed the size of the press corps assigned to cover state government.
Yet in Wisconsin, the reporters who remain continue to do outstanding work, as coverage of the Ken Kratz scandal attested. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin State Journal and Associated Press have topnotch teams covering the statehouse (although the imminent departure to Iowa of the AP's Ryan Foley, who broke the Kratz story, will be keenly felt).
Now there's a new kid on the block: The Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, a nonprofit based in Bismarck, N.D., plans to open a Wisconsin bureau, with an initial hire of a news reporter and investigative reporter. It's part of an effort to set up news bureaus in statehouses throughout the land, generating stories for the web that can be used freely by other media. (One of the group's mottos is "steal our stuff.")
Center president Jason Stverak says the goal is to address "the shrinking of the legacy media" by providing well-done, original content, especially stories that might otherwise fall through the cracks.
Andy Hall of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, which has a similar mission, notes that his group discloses its financial backers and the Franklin Center does not. Having this information, he says, puts the public "in a better position to evaluate the coverage and its credibility."
Stverak's résumé includes stints as regional field director for the pro-free-market Sam Adams Alliance and executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party. But he says the Franklin Center has no political agenda beyond its belief "in as much freedom of information as possible."
Stories generated by these bureaus, he says, have been picked up by outlets "from Fox News to CNN to MSNBC." One of the first Franklin Center bureaus, Illinois Statehouse News, is headed by Scott Reeder, a respected veteran member of the Illinois press corps.
The Wisconsin bureau will be based in Madison and could be running within a month. Hall says that "increased coverage of the state Capitol is a good thing," and that the Franklin Center's work will "be judged on its merits."