Mayville, Wisconsin’s interim Police Chief Ryan Vossekuil will have the “interim” tag removed and be sworn into the job full time on Thursday. This blip on the radar of small-town life was the result of many things, not the least of which was a radio journalist who had been in town only six months.
Alex Crowe’s work on the story of how leaked documents and shady deals brought to light the issue of what happens when a reporter digs into a story and won’t let go. We outlined the process and details of how he did it in yesterday’s post. Today, I asked him to reflect on why this matters and what he wanted to let student journalists know about this whole ordeal.
Q: How did it feel when you broke the news?
A: “It was kind of frightening to have someone in City Hall that consumed with me and my reporting, but I kept my bosses in the loop the entire time and continued to do my job. I had the documents, I knew my reporting was accurate, and figured it was common for someone backed into a corner to lash out.
If I want to be a reporter on a bigger scale in a bigger city, I know people of power will continue to attack the reporter and their reporting. He stopped short of calling it “Fake News,” but it was the same attack we see in the national media. Facts are facts, and as long as I had those documents to back up my work, I knew I would be fine…
I felt kind of awkward walking into the Public Safety and Information meeting, because I was new to town and had stirred up such a controversy within my first six months as a reporter there. But shortly thereafter, the Council voted to rescind its motion accepting Voeeskuil’s rejection, and agreed to re-open negotiations with him.”
Q: I have a lot of students who believe that “important” and “impactful” journalism can only happen at really big places in big cities, but this story really did change something important in Mayville. What would you want to tell students when it comes to taking a job or doing a job in an area like yours? How can they make a difference?
A: “You never know where or when important stories are going to come up. Never. I took a job doing news at a classic rock station in Mayville, hoping to use it as a springboard to a better job right away. But what I quickly found out was that you can’t always control what happens.
I had a station in Milwaukee pass me over for a job, and took a real shot to my pride when that happened. But this story kept me going, and made me want to not only prove that station wrong, but prove that good journalism and reporting can make a difference wherever you are. With small-town papers and TV stations being bought out by giant corporations and closed down, small-town government has gotten a free pass to do whatever they want behind closed doors, in my opinion.
I think every single journalism student should know that public servants work for the community and constituents that elected them, no matter how big or small the area. Nobody should get a free pass to do whatever they want just because they think no one is watching.”
Q: If you could tell students anything about anything associated with this story, journalism in general or anything else, what would it be?
A: “Wherever there is a person in power, no matter how big or small, there’s a potential for abuse and corruption. Always. And there should always be someone there keeping that person in power in check. This story started in the Mayville Police Department, then moved to City Hall. But I never would have been able to do this story without talking to people first, then getting hard documents to back it up.
Every journalism prof at UWO hammers home this point, and it couldn’t be more true. Each and every interview gave me more insight and information than the last. I took notes, highlighted and color coded important information, then used that information to convince someone to leak the documents to me.
It was really hard coming to a new town, calling and meeting with people I had never met before in my life, and accusing them of doing things that were shady and could threaten their seat on whatever council or committee they sat on. But in the end, exposing the truth is what mattered most, and it’s what made this whole thing right.”