Column

Styf: The details in reporting are what matter the most

Jon Styf
Jon Styf

In journalism, it’s all about the details.

We’re always on the search for them, and they often arrive piecemeal. For the reader, sometimes that leads to questions.

Why were there several stories on Steve Reick’s alleged DUI? Why three updates on Community High School District 155 teacher Jay Mueller’s paid leave? Why is Orville Brettman’s testimony from the 1970s news now, and why post the photos inside AJ Freund’s home now?

It’s because the details and informing you matters. So when new information is available, we’re here to find it and tell you.

With Reick’s case, it was a matter of when records were released. First came the arrest, then the arrest report, then the redacted video with no sound and, finally, the video with audio. Each bit was news, and we reported each as such. We would have loved to have all of it on the first or second day, when I went to the Sangamon County Courthouse to get information on it, but it simply doesn’t work that way. The Illinois State Police carefully redacted the video, then the audio, before sharing it.

With Mueller, District 155 was upfront with communication, sharing an email with parents and staff and also sending it to us. But we followed up with Crystal Lake police and received more information, and we also requested what amounted to be 868 pages of electronic communications before finding out the “personnel matter involving a minor,” from the initial communication was worded as “an investigation into allegations that you have engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a student” in a letter from the district’s head of human resources.

That doesn’t make the teacher innocent or guilty, but it adds context for the public on the reason for the investigation.

With Brettman, the answer seemed obvious.

He filed a lawsuit against McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks and others saying that stories that appeared in the Northwest Herald, Washington Post, New York Times and Elgin Courier were false. We knew it was an absurd assertion when the lawsuit was filed, but the admission of Brettman’s full grand jury testimony – and continued lying about its contents after it again was made public – certainly was newsworthy for someone who, for some reason, remains an important cog of McHenry County’s Republican Party.

All of these reasons are why we follow up on stories, regardless of how long it takes for the details to be made public.

A great example of that will be the new District 155 administrator contracts, approved May 21 by the board but still not released.

The district sent a statement saying that administrators will receive average salary and benefit increases of 2.4% for the three-year period of 2019-20 through 2021-22, stating, “Historically, after the board has approved the parameters for administrative contracts, those contracts are developed and then signed by the appropriate parties. We expect that process to be completed prior to the beginning of our upcoming fiscal year on
July 1.”

So contracts approved in May – the most expensive contracts the district has – won’t be available for the public to view until they go into effect in July. The district has several assistant principals making more than $138,000 in base salary, one of whom also gets more than $47,000 in total benefits, according to the district’s 2018 salary and benefits report. All of the assistant principals received $5,000 bonuses, as well. Those numbers, the details, add up quickly.

• Northwest Herald Editor Jon Styf can be reached at jstyf@shawmedia.com or 815-526-4630.

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