Jamie Wells of Fond du Lac, Wis., is among five local residents charged with felony election fraud for using a UPS Store address to register to vote. The prosecutor is Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, a Republican running for attorney general on a platform that includes being tough on election fraud. One critic calls it an “abuse” of prosecutorial discretion. Wells is seen June 2, 2022 at her attorney’s office in Appleton, Wis. (Amona Saleh / Wisconsin Watch)
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As I reflect on the roughly 60 stories we published in 2022, I am awed by what we accomplished. Wisconsin Watch is a small but growing nonprofit newsroom whose guiding values drive everything we do: Protect the vulnerable. Expose wrongdoing. Explore solutions. 

Central to each deep, fact-checked story is real people — Wisconsin residents often caught up in broken, failing or corrupt systems.

We identify what is going wrong, and often, how things could be made better. Sometimes it’s a simple fix. In other cases, the solution is expensive, politically difficult or unpopular. 

In no particular order, here are some of the best things we published in 2022:

Our seven-part Open and Shut podcast, which focused on the nearly unchecked power of prosecutors. The project took nearly three years to report, write and produce. We worked with our long-time partner WPR to examine the impact of two northeastern Wisconsin district attorneys who bent the rules, creating lasting negative consequences to the justice system.

The Flawed Forensics series explored the legacy of former University of Wisconsin Dr. Barbara Knox. Wisconsin Watch found that at least a dozen times, Knox labeled illness or accidental injury as intentional child abuse. Knox’s diagnoses of child abuse were repeatedly rejected by prosecutors, police, child-protection officials, judges — even other doctors. Nevertheless, authorities continued to rely on her opinion over 13 years in more than 200 court cases.(Claire DeRosa / Wisconsin Watch and University of Wisconsin file photo)

The Flawed Forensics series explored the legacy of former University of Wisconsin Dr. Barbara Knox. Wisconsin Watch found that at least a dozen times, Knox labeled illness or accidental injury as intentional child abuse. Knox’s diagnoses of child abuse were repeatedly rejected by prosecutors, police, child-protection officials, judges — even other doctors. Nevertheless, authorities continued to rely on her opinion over 13 years in more than 200 court cases. Knox has left Wisconsin, but the impact of these cases lingers for parents and caregivers wrongly accused. 

In a two-part series, we explored the roots of a culture war that gripped Kiel, Wisconsin, earlier this year. The turmoil began when the school district investigated students’ reports of being bullied over their race or gender identity. After the stories were published, throngs of parents showed up at the Kiel School District’s annual meeting, beating back attempts to curb efforts to make the schools more welcoming.

Jamie Wells of Fond du Lac, Wis., is among five local residents charged with felony election fraud for using a UPS Store address to register to vote. The prosecutor is Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, a Republican ran unsuccessfully for attorney general on a platform that includes being tough on election fraud. One critic calls it an “abuse” of prosecutorial discretion. (Amona Saleh / Wisconsin Watch)

In our Democracy on the Ballot series, we examined the state of democracy in Wisconsin as the 2022 midterm election loomed. We revealed how a candidate for attorney general filed felony charges against voters who made innocent mistakes when registering to vote. We investigated overblown claims by activists that “incompetent” voters were being manipulated into voting. We showed that many eligible voters in Wisconsin jails are unable to vote — and how officials could change that. Wisconsin Watch explored the ways embattled municipal clerks were preparing for a contentious election. We showed how some GOP candidates continued to push the lie — a few loudly, others quietly —  that the 2020 election was “stolen.” We showed how anti-LGBTQ rhetoric was being used for political advantage — and how candidates differed sharply on reproductive rights. And we found that the legislative maps drawn by Republicans were even more skewed in their favor in 2022 — maps that already were among the most gerrymandered in the nation.

In our two-part series Policing Pregnancy, we explored Wisconsin’s particularly punitive law that allows officials to force pregnant people into drug or alcohol treatment — even jail. In a separate story, we tapped into the wisdom of Wisconsin’s top experts who outlined how a more compassionate approach would help even more babies and parents stay healthy.

Beyond Hunger, a 10-part series reported by University of Wisconsin-Madison journalism students, examined all aspects of food insecurity in Wisconsin, where 1 in 12 people are not sure where their next meal will come from. The stories showed how changes by government, nonprofit groups and individuals could improve access to fresh, healthy food for Wisconsinites. 

Lois Brown, 68, checks out after shopping at the Hunger Task Force Mobile Market which was parked outside the Highland Garden apartments in Milwaukee on March 16, 2022. Such mobile markets are an effort to provide fresh food to urban food deserts. (Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch)

As part of a new collaborative exploring key issues in the Mississippi River basin, we profiled French Island, a community near La Crosse, Wisconsin grappling with drinking water contaminated by PFAS, the so-called forever chemicals. We also offered advice on how people whose well water is tainted by PFAS can stay safe.

Wisconsin Watch revealed how Wisconsin’s “honor” system for removing guns from abusers failed Jesi Ewers, a mother of five murdered by her estranged boyfriend with a gun a judge had ordered him to relinquish. We showed how other jurisdictions take a more proactive approach to removing weapons from the hands of abusers. (Courtesy of Sati Ewers-Kubly)

Wisconsin Watch revealed how Wisconsin’s “honor” system for removing guns from abusers failed Jesi Ewers, a mother of five murdered by her estranged boyfriend with a gun a judge had ordered him to relinquish. We showed how other jurisdictions take a more proactive approach to removing weapons from the hands of abusers. 

We examined the problem of reckless driving in Milwaukee and Madison, showing how urban highways were making it easier for drivers to speed — with deadly consequences. 

Wisconsin Watch also revealed how patients suffering from so-called chronic Lyme disease fight debilitating symptoms — while also facing widespread skepticism from the medical community.
Finally, our best-read story of 2022 was a look back at a massive project built to protect a long stretch of shoreline from wildly fluctuating water levels in Lake Michigan. We found the structure was exacerbating erosion elsewhere on the shore, threatening to topple nearby homes.

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

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Dee J. Hall / Wisconsin WatchManaging Editor

Dee J. Hall, a co-founder of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, joined the staff as managing editor in June 2015. She is responsible for the Center’s daily news operations. She worked at the Wisconsin State Journal for 24 years as an editor and reporter focusing on projects and investigations.

A 1982 graduate of Indiana University’s journalism school, Hall served reporting internships at the weekly Lake County Star in Crown Point, Ind., The Gary (Ind.) Post-Tribune, The Louisville (Ky.) Times and The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. Prior to returning to her hometown of Madison in 1990, she was a reporter for eight years at The Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix, where she covered city government, schools and the environment. During her 35-year journalism career, Hall has won more than three dozen local, state and national awards for her work, including the 2001 State Journal investigation that uncovered a $4 million-a-year secret campaign machine operated by Wisconsin’s top legislative leaders.