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University of Wisconsin–Madison

2018: Division, Denial & Journalism Ethics

At our 10th annual conference, we discussed and challenged conventional thinking about how institutional, organizational and individual decisions in newsrooms affect American discourse and beliefs. We explored ethics issues related to production and dissemination of news and other content and the responsibilities of sources, producers and consumers.

The keynote conversation with Justin Gillis asked how science writers can accurately convey both uncertainty about research and certainty about scientific consensus.

“Deep divides: Bridging the gap with ethical journalism” explored several current news stories with an eye to the ethical issues involved and considered options for how to address them in ways that could help bridge divides among news consumers.

“Denial: Your Truth and Mine” considered the routines and incentives of journalists and the psychology of the audience that grows conspiracies, values the wisdom of the mob over expert knowledge, and limits public debate on policies.

“Solutions: Is there a future for deliberation” asked what journalists can do to represent diverse views in public debate, restore a common set of facts as the basis for discourse, build trust and aid citizens in being a self-governing democracy.

Keynote speaker

Justin Gillis is an author and consultant working on a book about how to solve global warming. He is also the Science Writer in Residence at UW-Madison. He spent nearly a decade as a reporter for The New York Times covering environmental science, with a special focus on climate change, and is now a contributing opinion writer for the newspaper. He was the author of a Times series, “Temperature Rising” that ran from 2010 to 2013 and updated readers on major developments in climate science, winning the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism from Columbia University. He was also the principal author in 2014 of “The Big Fix,” which critically examined proposed solutions to climate change. In 2015, he was part of the Times team that covered the Paris climate conference, which produced the world’s most ambitious agreement to tackle global warming. He traveled to Antarctica twice in 2016 to create a series of articles and virtual reality videos on the risk that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will collapse in a warming world.

Gillis is a native of southern Georgia and a graduate of the University of Georgia in journalism. Earlier in his career he worked at the Associated Press, The Miami Herald and The Washington Post. For the Post, he covered genetics, biotechnology and the completion of the Human Genome Project. In the 2004-2005 academic year, he was a Knight Fellow in Science Journalism at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


10 Panel I: Deep Divides: Bridging the Gaps with Ethical Journalism

  • Nick Penzenstadler, investigative reporter, USA Today Network
  • Juana Summers, senior writer, CNN Politics
  • Andrea Wenzel, assistant professor, Temple University

Moderated by Phil Haslanger, former editor and reporter, The Capital Times

11:15 Panel II: Denial: Your Truth and Mine

  • Stephanie Edgerly, assistant professor, Northwestern University
  • Lucas Graves, associate professor, UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Michelle Holmes, vice president of content, Alabama Media Group

Moderated by Michael W. Wagner, associate professor, UW-Madison

2:15 Panel III: Solutions: Is There a Future for Deliberation?

  • Jane Elizabeth, Journalism Accountability Program director, American Press Institute
  • Michelle Holmes, vice president of content, Alabama Media Group
  • Marty Kaiser, senior fellow, Democracy Fund
  • Carline Watson, executive producer, All Things Considered, NPR

Moderated by Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago

Stephanie Edgerly is an assistant professor with a specialization in audience insight. Her research explores how shifts in the media environment promote or prevent engagement with news, especially among youth and young adults. Recent research examines youth news socialization and the predictors of news avoidance during the 2016 election.

Jane Elizabeth, a former editor at The Washington Post, joined API in 2014. She has been an editor and reporter at four other U.S. metropolitan newspapers and has taught journalism at three universities. She was a 2017 Knight-Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. She’s also the author of the “News from a Friend” newsletter designed to showcase top stories from reliable news sources.

Jill Giesler

When media leaders across the world want to improve their skills or their cultures, they call on UW alum Jill Geisler. They know her from her many years leading the management programs of the Poynter Institute, her book “Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know,” her monthly Columbia Journalism Review management column, or her podcast “Q&A: Leadership and Integrity in the Digital Age.” Jill was among the country’s first women TV news directors, has been inducted into multiple media halls of fame and has recently been named the Newseum Institute Fellow in Women’s Leadership. She holds a bachelor degree in journalism and a master in leadership studies.

Lucas Graves is a communication scholar and former magazine journalist who studies how news and news organizations are changing in the contemporary media ecosystem. His 2016 book “Deciding What’s True: The Rise of Political Fact-Checking in American Journalism” chronicled the history, mission, and day-to-day work of a form of journalism that has reshaped political reporting.

Phil Haslanger

Phil Haslanger has straddled the worlds of skepticism and belief. A UW-Madison grad (BA in sociology in 1971, MA in journalism in 1973). he worked at The Capital Times from 1973 to 2008 as a reporter, city editor, editorial page editor and managing editor. In 2007, was ordained as a minister in the United Church of Christ.

VP Content at Alabama Media Group since 2013 (based in Birmingham, Alabama) Company publishes statewide, the state’s three largest newspapers, niche sites ranging from Reckon (issues and political news) to It’s A Southern Thing. She also was John S. Knight fellow at Stanford 2011-2012. Previously she was with Ustream, San Francisco, and reporter and editor in Chicago area.

Marty Kaiser is a journalism consultant and Senior Fellow at the Democracy Fund. He was Editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from 1997 to 2015. Kaiser’s newsroom won three Pulitzer Prizes and was a finalist six other times from 2003 through 2014. Editor & Publisher magazine named him Editor of the Year in 2009.

Nick Penzenstadler is an investigative reporter at USA TODAY where he works on national investigations. Before joining USA TODAY he was a reporter at The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wis. and the Rapid City (S.D.) Journal. He is a 2010 graduate of UW-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Juana Summers is a senior writer for CNN Politics, where she covers national politics. Previously, Summers was an editor for the CNN Politics app. Summers joined CNN after serving as politics editor at Mashable, where she directed coverage of the 2016 presidential race, the White House and Congress. She has covered Congress for NPR and covered the 2012 presidential race and Capitol Hill for POLITICO. Before moving to Washington DC, she covered Missouri politics for the Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Summers is a former member of the Online News Association’s Board of Directors and was named to Marie Claire’s “New Guard” list of the 50 most connected women in America in 2015.

Michael W. Wagner is Louis A. Maier Faculty Development Fellow in the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He teaches and publishes on questions of political communication and democracy in books like Political Behavior of the American Electorate and journals such as Journal of Communication, Human Communication Research and Political Communication.

Carline Watson is the executive producer of NPR’s award-winning afternoon newsmagazine All Things Considered and is responsible for the day-to-day running of the show.


Previously, she served as executive producer of NPR’s Identity and Culture Unit and before that she was executive producer of NPR’s Tell Me More.


In January 1996, Watson came to work at NPR as an editorial assistant on Weekend Edition Sunday. Since that time she has worked on the first iteration of satellite radio, News and Notes, and was the first producer and on-air director of The Tavis Smiley Show. She later served as supervising senior producer for NPR’s news talk-show Talk of the Nation.


Before NPR, Watson gained experience with journalism by working in the press office of the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London. Previously she worked with Human Rights Watch.


After graduating summa cum laude from Howard University with a degree in political science and journalism, Watson went on to earn a master of science degree in journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.

Andrea Wenzel, PhD, is an assistant professor at Temple University and a fellow with Columbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. She previously spent 15 years in public radio (WBEZ, WAMU) and international media development with organizations such as BBC Media Action and Internews in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, and Ghana.

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