During its months-long investigation, the TMJ4 I-Team regularly reported on Wisconsin’s overly complicated and neglected unemployment system, which collapsed under the pressure of the pandemic. It helped 83 people collect nearly $400,000 in unemployment back pay.
WTMJ, the Scripps NBC affiliate in Milwaukee, will receive a Walter Cronkite Award for its 2020 investigative series, Unemployment System Collapse.
During its investigation launched in March 2020, the TMJ4 I-Team regularly reported on Wisconsin’s overly complicated and neglected unemployment system, which collapsed under the pressure of the pandemic.
The team’s investigation found that policies implemented years before, coupled with missteps made early in the pandemic, led to thousands of people being stuck waiting for unemployment benefits, some becoming homeless in the process.
The TMJ4 I-Team used broadcast and social media to give struggling Wisconsinites a voice to tell their own stories and collaborated with nonprofit news service Wisconsin Watch to obtain open records, documents and data used in the series.
As a result of the investigation, the TMJ4 I-Team has helped 83 people in its community collect nearly $400,000 in unemployment back pay.
“At the onset of the pandemic in 2020, Scripps stations across the country made a commitment to cover the most pressing issues in their communities,” says Brian Lawlor, Scripps Local Media president.
“The TMJ4 I-Team’s investigation into the state’s unemployment system is a powerful example of the important role of local TV news. We’re extremely proud of the TMJ4 I-Team’s dogged persistence to shed light on this problem.”
For the first time, entries in the Walter Cronkite Award were limited to three subject-matter categories: systemic racism, the coronavirus pandemic and the integrity of elections. A record 177 were received.
In awarding WTMJ the award, the Walter Cronkite Award judges had this to say about the station’s investigation:
Wisconsin’s pandemic shutdown brought its dangerously outdated unemployment system to the breaking point, failing thousands of people, some becoming homeless while waiting for benefits. This Scripps-owned NBC affiliate used social and broadcast media for struggling Wisconsinites to tell their own stories, and for the station and its nonprofit partner, Wisconsin Watch, to hold government’s feet to the fire, helping citizens collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in unemployment back pay. The jury commended the TMJ4 ITeam’s “great storytelling and selfless tenacity” as “a great example of journalism as a public service.”
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