After meeting with the three other students helping with the project, Professor Valbrun told us that she plans to focus primarily on welfare recipients affected by the 1997 Wisconsin Works (commonly known as W-2) program.
I'm very excited to begin working on the project, but the size of the project itself is somewhat daunting. Where does one begin to cover welfare reform in the state that "put an end to welfare as we know it?" Apparently at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel offices.
Last Friday Professor Valbrun took myself and another student over to the newspaper's offices to go begin searching through their databases for mentions of previous welfare recipients affected by W-2. As a journalism major, there's anything more exciting than receiving access to hundreds of thousands of articles from one of the top newspapers in the Midwest.
Professor Valbrun assigned each of us a couple of years and we set to work. I was in charge of reading articles written by the Journal-Sentinel between 1996-1997, the height of the controversy. After plugging a few basic keywords, my initial search returned over 800 results. In just two years, one newspaper and its affiliates managed to turn out nearly 1,000 articles on welfare controversy and reform. If our job seemed daunting before arriving at the Journal-Sentinel, it was doubly so now. I remembered something Professor Valbrun said to myself and the other students at our first meeting: "There are people hurting out there," she said. "We just have to find them."
This semester, that's what I hope to do. I look forward to spending the following months learning from some of the best journalists this campus and the country have to offer.