Part 3. WCIJ has Trouble with Delete Key. We Guide Their Hand. | Wis.Community

Part 3. WCIJ has Trouble with Delete Key. We Guide Their Hand.



... Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism Violates 3 Principles in its Code of Ethics....


A Series of Commentaries.

Introduction. .

Part 1. .

Part 2. .

Part 3. "Nobody Knows..."


WCIJ Screenshot


[img_assist|nid=3981|title=WCIJ Says Nobody Knows...|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=475|height=309]
















I point.

Notice the second sentence, beginning "Nobody knows..."?

This short sentence deserves attention but please don't quote it.

  • Even its author, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, knows it is not true.
  • Secondly, knowing it is false, WCIJ nevertheless preserves the error for all to read on its webpage - second sentence, on top.
  • Thirdly, "Nobody Knows..." is a preposterous claim. How does a journalist establish evidence that nobody knows?



Best I can tell, as follows:

A July 21 report from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism incorrectly said that state officials haven’t estimated how many people would ride a proposed passenger rail line between Madison and Milwaukee. Actually, a 2008 report prepared for the state Department of Transportation estimated that 188,000 passengers a year would take the trip between the two cities by 2020. An additional 155,000 passengers would take the trip between Madison and Chicago. Total ridership on all or portions of the new route is estimated to be 900,000 passengers a year by 2020.

Thank you very much. But why not delete the error? Which error stands firmly on top of the WCIJ essay.

This "Nobody Knows..." sentence - from the top of WCIJ's blog on high speed rail - continues (now for 48 days) to feed media outlets hungry for information, infecting new sources.

It is nothing new for journalists to misrepresent government officials with intent to increase their audience for advertisers.

How can we improve journalism if the funded, high-minded, "standard setting" journalists don't follow their own standards?



Am I being picky?

You bet. From 27 outlets, growing now (Sept. 6) to 33. These media quote WCIJ as declaring "Nobody Knows..." about passenger estimates - even after the 'correction.' The number grows as writers quote other writers, long after WCIJ may behoove itself to make the correction.

Investigative Journalism?

  • Failing the taxpaying public who pay double for WCIJ, operating out of the UW campus.
  • Failing Wisconsin Public Radio which "partners" with WCIJ.
  • Helping the "sound-byte" media with the short, misleading sentence.
  • Our Media Watchdogs birthing yet another media virus, "swift boating" high speed rail.
  • Sloppy. Careless. So, I say:


Welcome to the New Journalism


Newspapers are laying off reporters and turning responsibility for text over to a higher power. And WCIJ steps into the gap with its pithy truths.

Well, I suggest some media outlets may be conned for a while by the 'prestige' of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. I can understand they might lend credence to the Ivy Halls of Journalism, at the University of Wisconsin.

Let us take measure of WCIJ by their own principles of performance.


The WCIJ Code of Ethics

With "Nobody Knows..." WCIJ has cut an artery of its life-blood, its own credibility.

WCIJ appears to stand in violation of three principles of its own .

Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible....

Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context....

And a violation of no. 3 under "Be Accountable"

Admit mistakes and correct them promptly....



This number bodes well for Wisconsin - and our ability to understand the power of rail. I am happy that WCIJ has felt prompted to publish this number - even while hiding it under a link, and denying it prominently.

900,000 passengers per year riding Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison rails. This number is so huge, it surely may take the gas out of WCIJ's balloon. "Is the State Ready...?" Well, yes, Wisconsin is ready, maybe we're late, but we're ready.

Watch for our Course for Math for Journalists, coming soon. Journalists as a breed tend to be math-shy. Help is on the way.

Part 4. Coming soon. Part 4 and future blogs will each cover a topic related to high speed rail as covered by WCIJ: * content, * language, * common sense, * the Governor Doyle's transportation record, * the debate about reducing congestion, * and - throughout all blogs - suggestions of resources available to a journalist truly interested in reporting on transportation policy to the public, including as I promised, * math.


A series of commentaries on report by Lexie Clinton of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, with Andy Hall and Jim Packard. : July 21 and : July 22, 2009.

The author, Bill Sell, is a life-long Milwaukee resident. Founder and principal of a 33 year old downtown Milwaukee business serving editors and authors nationwide. Founding Member Bay View Neighborhood Association. Founder of Transit Matters. Steering Committee Coalition for Advancing Transit. Member Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. Shepherd Express Community Activist of the Year, 2007. Member, Public Policy Forum. Associate Member, Investigative Reporters and Editors.





September 6, 2009 - 12:39pm