This week, the WisconsinEye Public Affairs Network, also known as WisEye, a non-profit State Capitol broadcast organization, announced they intend to implement a paywall on their content. We regard this move as disastrous for open and accountable government at the state level in Wisconsin.
What is WisEye? Think C-SPAN, but for Wisconsin. Unless you’re a state government enthusiast, or were one of about 20,000 viewers that tuned in to watch the state Supreme Court’s arguments on Wisconsin’s Nov. 2020 election results, the last time (outside of maybe the occasional clip during your local evening news) that you’ve probably watched WisEye was during Act 10 in 2011, if at all.
But WisEye has been here, innovating along since 2007, doing the thankless job of being an Argus of state government, always watching, even when perhaps our elected officials would rather it not be.
The new WisEye plan will keep live content free, but will put events older than 24 hours behind a paywall, with access to all content costing $9.99 a month, according the the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story about WisEye that keeps prominently telling us that we have one free article left (the irony is not lost).
Although Valley Sentinel is not one of them, many news outlets are turning to paywalls in order to stopgap revenue shortfalls. We have strong opinions on the role of corporate media in creating those shortfalls, which is why we believe in open access to our news content. However, WisEye is a non-profit that relies largely on donations even during this uncertain time. The answer to the problem can’t be to create a walled garden around the goings-on of state government, especially in a time like this.
Why is this important? Why is this an issue? Well this week the Wisconsin State Legislature has taken up a joint resolution that would repeal the governor’s statewide mask mandate. They’re moving forward using a “joint resolution” process that won’t require the governor’s signature, nor allow his veto, if passed by both houses.
Regardless of your opinion on the matter (polling from Marquette University in October found the statewide mask mandate had an approval rating of 72 percent), actions like this are important. Perhaps the next issue taken up by the legislature will be more dear to your heart, or your checkbook? However, most don’t have time to watch the proceedings of our lawmakers during the busy work day or during one of their notorious late night sessions.
As WisEye President Jon Henkes stated in the Journal Sentinel story, “People are looking for truth and our position is, what better truth is there than what actually happened from beginning to end?” Unfortunately, a paywall is an impediment to that for those that are civic minded and unable to attend meetings at the Capitol or unable to afford the monthly paywall costs due to the ongoing pandemic or other hardship.
Wisconsin prides itself (or used to) on open government. The public shouldn’t have to pay for the right to open government. Again, WisEye is a non-profit and needs to find a sustainable funding model that ensures access to state government in perpetuity. Lawmakers and other stakeholders need to be part of that solution — but paywalls are not.