Interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning Wisconsin reporter Elizabeth McGowan

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The need for a free and robust press is an American value with strong, deep roots.  Even today, when more Americans express negative than positive views of the news media, 8 in 10 believe that the media have an important role to play in democracy, particularly in relation to informing citizens, according to a Gallup/Knight Foundation survey released in January 2018. 

The past decade’s decline, by more than a third, in the number of newspaper reporters and editors is a dramatic sign that not only public opinion, but American journalism itself is changing.  More difficult to determine is the effect of these changes on democracy. What we can observe is that shrunken newsrooms are unable to offer the same breadth of information to readers that they once did.  At the same time, digital platforms offer a vast array of information, the veracity of which can be difficult to judge.  Only 27% of Americans are very confident that they can discern when a news source is reporting factual news as opposed to commentary or opinion, reports Gallup/Knight.

Here in Wisconsin, what is happening to our journalists and how are they responding to the changes that economics and technology have thrust upon them while pursuing their mission as the Fourth Estate?  What can Wisconsin citizens do to stay well-informed on issues that matter to us?

The WHC's Beyond the Headlines initiative brings citizens and journalists together to talk about pressing local issues.  Through those conversations, citizens probe how journalists in Wisconsin now work to provide the information that we want and need. In Madison, Wausau, Eau Claire, Milwaukee, and Superior, Beyond the Headlines events dig into issues like policing, poverty, racism, and the future of our waters. 

To kick off our conversation about journalism and democracy, we turned to Elizabeth McGowan, who began her reporting career at the Janesville Gazette.  McGowan won the Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting in 2013 while with InsideClimate News, for stories on the regulation of the nation’s oil pipelines, focusing on potential ecological dangers posed by diluted bitumen (or “dilbit”) which is a controversial form of oil.  The stories began with a spill in Kalamazoo, MI.


Click to download the interview PDF.


We thank The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their generous support of this initiative and the Pulitzer Prizes for their partnership.