Tags: Staff Editorial
March 07, 2012 | 07:35 AMWe've recently taken some heat regarding our coverage of two high profile felony cases now going through the Walworth County court system.
That's understandable. People can have their say and we will listen. However, there appears to be a misunderstanding as to what are the responsibilities and duties of a newspaper and communication company when it comes to covering these types of situations.
I think this is a perfect time to attempt to clarify to our readers as to how and why we report the things we do.
The cases I am referring to are those against former Williams Bay junior varsity girls basketball coach Shane McKinley and Star Center first-grade teacher Johnalee Kawalec. Both cases are completely different in nature, but have received extensive coverage and will continue to do so.
McKinley, 27, has pleaded not guilty to five felony charges which stem from a sexual relationship he allegedly had with a student-athlete he was coaching. He faces a count of repeated sexual assault and counts of possession of child pornography. If convicted of all counts, he faces up to 165 years imprisonment and $600,000 in fines.
According to the court documents, in November 2011, McKinley began a sexual relationship with the then 15-year-old at the YMCA, where he was employed. That relationship lasted for about a year. He no longer works at the YMCA nor as a coach in Williams Bay since the situation came to light in December.
On the other hand, Kawalec, 43, is facing felony charges after she allegedly stole more than $50,000 from an elderly man whose finances were left in her care. She faces a charge of theft of more than $10,000, but the victim has claimed that between 2005 and 2011, Kawalec wrote more than $50,000 worth of checks without his permission.
Neither of these cases are easy to cover. There always are extenuating circumstances when children are victims, not to mention the high profile jobs of the defendants as evident in these cases. We also have included some detailed information in these cases that not everyone will agree was necessary, but we feel strongly about providing as much information as possible.
It is important to remind everyone the Regional News is not the investigator, the judge or jury — we are simply the reporters and documenters of the charges people face and the written details provided that led to the cases going to court.
We do not investigate — that job is up to the police and sheriff's departments. We do not file charges — that is up to the District Attorney's Office. We do not decide guilt or innocence — that is up to the jury.
What we do is obtain official court documents, usually the criminal complaint, and we base our stories on that information. These documents describe the charges and include what police believe is the evidence to support the claims against the defendant.
Some may ask why we don't contact the defendants. Typically, people facing criminal charges and in the court system are told not to talk about their case. Their lawyers also are tight-lipped about how they intend to fight the case, so there often isn't any information to obtain from that viewpoint. There also are far too many cases each week to contact each and every defendant.
Ultimately, I don't think this is as much about how report these situations as it is why we do.
We cover these cases because the public has a right to know what's going on in the community or their school. That is our responsibility as a newspaper. People need to know these things are happening in the world and more importantly, right in their back yard. Just because friends of the defendants or victims may not want to believe the accusations or blame the newspaper for bringing them to light doesn't change the fact that these are serious felony charges that are being levied.
Think about it. If your child or grandchild attended Williams Bay School or was coached by McKinley, wouldn't you want to know what he allegedly has done? How about a parent of a first-grader at Star Center in Kawalec's class? Wouldn't you want to know more about the person who is teaching your child every day?
We also hope detailing these cases starts conversations. If our story about McKinley and what allegedly happened between he and a teen starts a dialogue between another parent and child that will shed light on something that shouldn't be happening, every bit of our efforts will be worth it.
So, the complaints, criticisms and threats may persist as these cases move through the court system, but we will continue to do our jobs in the same manner. It is our duty as journalists and a newspaper to do so. And if the defendants are found not guilty, we will report that as well.
It wouldn't be right for us to look at it any other way.
Seiser is the editor of the Regional News.