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Friday, March 01, 2024
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New UW System News Service sparks debate on government institutions providing impartial media

The UW News Service launched last week, providing media packages to news outlets across Wisconsin.

The University of Wisconsin System launched a News Service last week, providing content to Wisconsin outlets. However, some state leaders believe the government-run news service poses a threat to impartial reporting. 

Each week the site provides up to three text and visual content packages about higher education in Wisconsin, according to an email from UW System spokesperson Mark Pitsch.

“At the UW News Service web page, you will have access to three new story and high resolution image news packages each week for use on the web and in print,” said Pitsch. “The UW News Service will offer stories that illustrate the richness of life on a public higher education campus.”

Wisconsin state Sen. Stephen Nass (R) expressed his concerns in a letter to UW System President Jay Rothman. 

“This legion of taxpayer-supported public relations bureaucrats in the UW System already have the ability and access to issue press releases, share materials with media sources and promote story ideas,” said Nass.

Nass further explained that the announcement of the service raises troubling questions regarding the implications of a publicly funded news service with strict terms of use. In a letter to Rothman, Nass also questioned the need for the service and voiced his concerns regarding the launch of the site.

“It would appear that the UW System, a state government agency, has decided it no longer trusts or desires to allow for the editorial control of independent media sources when reporting on the system,” continued Nass. 

Media sources can use the packages free of cost if they adhere to the terms of use outlined on the service’s website. 

Sen. Nass argued the potential for bias coupled with the website's terms of use could enable misinformation about university scandals to slip through the cracks.

“Such an arrangement would appear to be clear government control over how any supposed independent media source would exercise editorial control over the publication of the materials issued by the University of Wisconsin News Service,” said Nass.

The terms of use require news sources to retain the original meaning of the stories provided, stating that changing the meaning of any of the stories would be in violation of the terms, according to the News Service website.

Rothman addressed Sen. Nass' concerns in a letter via email. He explained that by using “existing staff and resources,” the service incurred no additional costs for taxpayers. Rothman said the terms and conditions are standard for copyright and citations rather than an attempt to control independent media sources. 

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“The intent is to share stories about activities at our universities that are interesting and relevant to all Wisconsinites no matter where they live,” said Rothman. “In fact, it is critical that we share stories about how our universities are providing tremendous educational opportunities, advancing research and helping make their communities better.”

President Rothman emphasized how the News Service “modernizes the way we would traditionally share news releases.” 

“Right now on the web page you can find stories about students who conducted fascinating research during the summer, students and professors who are helping small businesses and efforts to train the next generation of nurses,” he added. 

Despite the site’s mission to neatly package media stories pertaining to UW System schools, Sen. Nass urged the UW System to “act immediately and end this terrible idea.” 

According to President Rothman, the UW System currently has no intention of halting the site and it will continue to produce three weekly stories. 

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