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Independent-Scout’s columnists do well in newspaper contest
Em's Awards
WHAT A YEAR for Emily Schendel, who won five first place awards in the WNA Better Newspaper Contest. In addition to wining first place for a local column, she also won first place for spot news photo, feature photo, artistic photo and breaking news story for work she did at the Fennimore Times. She posed with her five first place awards earlier this week at the Independent-Scout office in Gays Mills.

GAYS MILLS - It turned out to be the year of the columnist for Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout in this year’s statewide newspaper contest.

‘From the Valley’ by Emily Schendel won first place for Local Column in the Wisconsin Newspaper  Association Better Newspaper Contest.

‘Jane’s World’ by Jane Schmidt won second place for Local Column in the WNS Better Newspaper Contest.

Schendel started writing her column three-and-a-half years ago, while she worked as a reporter at the Independent-Scout. She moved on to become a reporter at the Boscobel Dial and most recently she took over as editor of the Fennimore Times. Through it all, she kept writing her column in her hometown paper.

“I was little discouraged when my column entries in the contest brought no response,” Schendel said.

In her third year, Schendel had almost given up on entering the column in the contest this year. Encouraged to enter by the staff at the Independent-Scout, she threw the task of selecting the three columns needed for the contest back at them. Afterall, her choices in the previous two years didn’t go anywhere.

So, the Independent-Scout entered her column titled, ‘My best friend, Stephanie, was a lovely bride.’ 

“This weekend, I married my best friend,” the column began. “I should back up a little bit, that is kind of a misleading sentence. Because, I was not the one getting married. I was the one doing the marrying. 

“My best friend Stephanie and her now husband were joined in matrimony… in Lansing, Iowa. I played the part of the officiant during the event,” the columnist went on to explain. It was classic Emily. 

Another column, titled ‘An ode to a real Kickapoogian-Grandpa Ray,’ was a tribute to her grandfather who had passed away the previous summer. Ray was the last of the ‘Kickapoo Hillbillies’ and Emily explained it all. 

Finally, there was the column about the impending birth of her second child, Waylon, and the importance he would play in the dynamics of the family–it was titled ‘This family is ready for round two.’

Jane Schmidt, who has won WNA awards in the past for her column ‘Jane’s World’ received second place for her columns this year.

Like Emily, Jane’s column is based on her personal observations of the world around her. Jane was impacted heavily in the preceding year by the death of her mother and as that played out, it was reflected in her work.

In her column, ‘My mother’s wit always made me chuckle,’ Jane goes on a shopping trip with her mother who lives in an assisted living facility. She does a masterful job of catching the old woman’s irreverent wit as she tries to keep up with her electric-powered cart in the store.

One of the first column’s selected for the entry was titled, ‘Aftermath of yet another flood.’ It documents Jane’s effort in her little town to help her neighbors recover from a devastating flood.

‘A long haired, gray-bearded man in well-worn colorless clothes sits in front of his tattered home, his eyes windows of pain,” Jane wrote.

The most heart-wrenching of all of the columns in Jane’s entries is titled ‘I’m your mama-they brought me joy.’ 

The column is just emotionally jarring as it describes the carnage of a raccoon attack during the night that kills all of Jane’s ducks and geese.

“When I came out to feed them yesterday morning, the smell of blood was thick in the air,” she writes at one point.

Both of the columnists have unique ability to capture the conversation of others. In Jane’s case, she can write dialog for her dogs and cats, and it’s precious.

In Emily’s case, it’s a unique ability to capture the language of very small and now not-so-small children. Kids say the darndest things, as television host Art Linkletter used to say.

The Independent-Scout is blessed to have these two great women columnists. However, they’re not the only columnists writing for the newspaper. John Gibbs whose column ‘Drift from a Driftless Place’ has also won the WNA Local Column award in the past. And so has our intrepid fisherman, Len Harris.

This year, Harris won third place for Local Outdoor Column. Most of Len’s columns involve fishing, but there’s a lot more to these columns than just fish.

Lens’ three columns for  ‘The Heart of the Driftless’ were  ‘Chasing the legendary Dragon with Anna.’ It’s about chasing a trout with alligator teeth.

Another column was ‘Len decides to keep his fish.’ This column describes the fisherman’s landing of 32” walleye at the Gays Mills dam. The third was called ‘A long hard winter for the fisherman,’ and it’s about dreaming of a trout not caught.

Len’s refreshing outdoor columns truly deserve the third-place award for Local Outdoor column.

Yes, it was indeed the year of the columnist for the independent-Scout, but there was another major award won by the newspaper.

Reporter Gillian Pomplun, a frequent winner in the contest over the years, received a second-place award for Reporting on Local Government.

Gillian has never before won in this category, but has won in a host of others over the past three or four years.

In this year’s contest, her stories on the Water Quality Task Force carried the day. Pomplun attended and reported on hearings held by the task force in LaCrossee, Mauston and Lancaster. She also added context from other local sources to help the water quality story.

Pomplun’s second place win in the ‘Reporting on Local Government’ was noteworthy in that the contest category is a ‘bread and butter’ category of reporting for local newspapers. Every small-town paper is obliged to cover the doings of local government as a core feature of their civic responsibilities.

“I was fascinated and cautiously inspired by the legislature’s decision to hold public hearings across the state on the topic of water quality,” Pomplun said. “Water quality has become a hot topic in our area of the state, and three of those hearings took place in southwest Wisconsin.”

While Pomplun might ordinarily have entered those stories in another category such as ‘Environmental Reporting’ or ‘Extended Coverage,’ she chose instead to enter them in the more highly contested ‘Reporting on Local Government’ category.

“It was noteworthy to me that the government seemed to be responsive to the concerns of their constituents in calling for these hearings,” Pomplun said. “Since most of our readers were unable to take time off from work to attend, I felt it was my responsibility to go there and report on how our elected leaders were responding to their concerns.”

The contest judge wrote about Pomplun’s award:

“Some great work being done by small papers in this state. I was impressed by the entries -- these are relatively routine stories, yet many showed reporters/editors consistently going the extra mile. 

Thought: This CAFO / water quality thing would be an ideal avenue for the small papers to get together, maybe via the state press group, and do some statewide investigation. Big, huge thing. Honor and glory to be had in that. I sense it's a big thing in county after county. But no one's putting it together, and the big papers certainly aren't about to in today's climate.”

And the Independent- Scout editor Charley Preusser picked up two third place awards.

One was for the Best Front Page, which the judge cited the engaging quality of the front page photos as a reason for making the award.

The editor also won a third-place award for a Freedom of Information  story about the policy outlawing political speech on the Town of Freeman property.

The Crawford County Independent had another good year in the WNA Better Newspaper Contest led by our outstanding columnists this time.