Watchdogs on Beat Thanks to Internship

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Story by Chris DuPre, UW Foundation

An investment in investigative journalism is paying off for student interns, an acclaimed newspaper and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

For the last three years, UW-Madison interns have worked with the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel thanks to support from Sharon Stark (’66 BS L&S).

“I’m doing in-depth interviews, learning how to ask tough questions and expanding my knowledge of computer-assisted reporting,” said Amy Karon, a graduate student and the paper’s fourth Stark intern. Her stories have covered the high cost of urgent care, state sales tax issues, construction scams and people performing health care without licenses, among other topics.

George Stanley, Journal Sentinel vice president and managing editor, said the internship has allowed the paper to continue its popular Public Investigator column following up on tips from readers. The student interns “have been great additions to our staff – honest, hard-working, full of enthusiasm,” he said. “We want to follow each one of them and see if we can’t get them back in our newsroom some day.”

Like many in her generation, Stark (along with her husband, Peter Livingtson) was inspired by the work of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in exposing the Watergate scandal. “I’ve always been a firm believer that good journalism makes for a good democracy,” she said. “Investigative journalism is a really powerful tool that has led to a lot of positive changes in our society.”

Stark observed, with some dismay, that many newspapers have let their investigative reporting languish in times of tight budgets and shrinking circulation. She also was disappointed to discover, as a member of the School’s Board of Visitors, that of three student interns giving a presentation her fund-sponsored intern was the only paid one.

“You can’t send kids out into the world for three months and not have them earn any money,” she said, adding that a separate internship fund has been established through the Board of Visitors.

The partnership has been invaluable for the School. “Sharon’s support has enabled us to create one of the best student training programs in the country for investigative journalism,” Professor Deborah Blum said. In addition to the internships, “it’s allowed us to pay costs for public records requests. It’s allowed student journalists to travel when needed. It’s allowed the School to push the quality of projects to a much higher level.”

For Stark, the partnership also has an immediate impact. “The whole fun of philanthropy is doing something and then seeing your money at work,” she said. “I always thought I wanted to set up a foundation when I died, but what’s the fun in that?”