Back in April, I posted a story on how to make a story out of a series of “no comment” statements. Alex Nemec, now a general-assignment reporter with the Oconomowoc Enterprise, matched wits against a system meant to tell him nothing in hopes of making sure he could tell students at UW-Oshkosh something about the removal of a professor from a classroom.
Nemec’s story, titled “The Curious Case of Willis Hagen,” is just one part of a reporting experience that has led to a yearlong court battle over open records. Last week, an appeals court in Wisconsin ruled that Nemec was entitled to the records he sought about previous university investigations into Hagen. The records will remain sealed for 30 days, during which time, Hagen can decide if he will appeal the decision to the state’s supreme court. If he chooses not to do so, the records will be released. If he decides to appeal, the case will continue.
I checked in with Nemec after the court made its ruling for an update on the case and his thoughts about the process:
You graduated back in December, your current job has no attachment to this at all, it’s been 18 months since the catalyst (his removal from class) that got you interested in this and you still have no idea what is in these things. Why did you continue to push for this release when you could have said, “To hell with this” and let it go?
I continued to push for this because it was the right thing to do. Open records laws are important to journalists and the more cases we win as journalists, the more cases there are to point to when we are receiving push back from people who don’t want to release them. If we continue to rack up the reasons why, there won’t be many reasons left as to why not.
In addition, I kept fighting this cause I wanted these records and wanted to know what was going on. A professor being pulled out of class by police officers is a big deal and I don’t really care if it wasn’t some huge scoop where he did something awful at the school, the students and taxpayers should know why.
This could have all been done and over with for a long time now if Hagen or the College of Business had just talked to me and told me what was going on. I intervened in this lawsuit because I believed it was the right thing to do after talking with you. I wanted to make sure this thing went my way and that the people understood what happened.
Lastly, I wasn’t going to roll over and give up just because I’m not affiliated with the case anymore. One, that’s just lazy and you can’t be lazy in this business. I had to fight the good fight for the sake of the industry. Two, I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction that he had beaten me or succeeded in delaying it for so long that I just gave up.