Special Feature: Journalism News
Pulitzer Prize Awarded to Milwaukee Reporter Spotlights the Important Role of Journalists
by Aarushi Agni, Assistant Editor The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s recent award reinforces the power of journalism and private citizens to protect their communities.
On April 12th, Raquel Rutledge of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for her local reporting on corruption in Wisconsin’s childcare subsidy program. Her reporting series, entitled “Cashing in on Kids,” exposed the fraud and criminal activity in the taxpayer-subsidized child-care system. Rutledge revealed shocking truths, including 16 day care operations with links to drug deals that were subsidized by this system.
The story began with an anonymous tip. After the death of a four-month-old baby in van outside a day care, a whistleblower alerted Rutledge to the situation.
A whistleblower is an anonymous informant who provides information to reporters about corruption in the government or wrongdoing in the private sector. Without the actions of these concerned citizens, many instances of fraud and corruption might go unchecked. Reporters often rely on whistleblowers as important sources of information.
“The whistleblowers deserve credit. They came forward. They risked their careers,” said Rutledge soon after the prize was announced, “If you don’t have courageous people call, this doesn’t get done.”
A bill to protect whistleblowers, AB 333, dubbed the Whistleblower Protection Act, would establish greater protections for these informants. The bill, which at press time had passed both houses, would only permit a subpoena issuance to a journalist regarding a whistleblower’s identity if there was “clear and convincing evidence” demonstrating that this information is “highly revelant” to a case and could not be obtained from another source.
The editorial staff of the Wisconsin State Journal, who support the passage of this bill, stated that “[w]ithout reasonable protection against retaliation, whistleblowers will be less likely to step forward with what they know. And that will leave the public more vulnerable to scams and wrongdoing.”
Rutledge’s report led to action on the part of Milwaukee prosecutors who filed charges against the offending day care providers, and county and city authorities, which have formed task forces to combat fraud. Government workers are being held accountable, and state regulators have stopped funding day care providers suspected of abusing the program.
The Pulitzer Prize awarded to Rutledge once again spotlights the important role of a free press in democracy. The press serves as a mode of communication between the government and community and also as a force of accountability. Newspapers allow the community to keep tabs on their officials, ensuring that they do their jobs correctly. When reporters like Rutledge pursue their stories with fire and passion, their words and the information they provide make waves in a community and often correct injustice. It is the job of journalists and the communities they serve to demand transparency and accountability from their governments.
[Sources: Wisconsin State Journal, Student Press Law Center, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]