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Editor wins big at WNA Better Newspaper Contest
Emily Schendel
There’s been a bit of commotion at the Fennimore Times  this spring. It started early this year with an announcement from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association that editor Emily Schendel had won four first place awards for her work at the weekly newspaper and one third place award.
Schendel was awarded first place for a breaking news story on a local house fire. The Times editor also won first place for a spot news photo of that house fire.
Schendel won third place for a spot news photo of a barn fire in Livingston.
In addition to all of that, Schendel won two more first place awards for a photo of a robin poised to eat a crab apple. One of those first-place awards was in feature photo category and the other first place award was in the artistic photo category.
“I couldn’t believe it, when I found out the results,” Schendel recalled.
Winning four first place awards in the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest is a major accomplishment, which most journalists in the state will never experience.
However, Emily Schendel won yet another first place award (making it five in all) for her column, called ‘From the Valley.’ Schendel started writing the column when she worked as a reporter for the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout, the Gays Mills weekly. She has continued to write it after moving on to other newspapers.
‘From the Valley’ is a weekly column based on the 31-year-old journalist’s personal observations. There’s lots about her family  and friends. There are also Schendel’s observations about the rural community and the animals, both wild and domestic, with whom she lives.
In its third year now, Schendel had almost given up on entering the column in the contest. Encouraged to enter by the staff at the Independent-Scout, she threw the task of selecting the three columns for the contest back at them. After all, her choices in the previous two years didn’t go anywhere.
So, the Independent-Scout entered the column she wrote, ‘I married my best friend Stephanie.’ Actually, she was the official who married her best friend Stephanie to that woman’s boyfriend. Then, there was a tribute to her Grandpa Ray who passed away last 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.’
What Emily demonstrated with her tour de force of the WNA Better Newspaper Contest this year was her depth as a journalist.
The reporter wrote an award-winning breaking news story. She won first place for describing the house fire.
“Brilliant picture blazes the eyes’ attention,” the judge wrote. “The narrative captures both the action and emotion of the event.”
As a photographer, Schendel won a first-place award for the breaking news photo of the house fire in the Spot News category, additionally, Emily also won the third place award for the same category for a photo of fire fighters fighting a barn fire in rural Livingston.  
Emily also showed her  ability with the camera by winning two first place awards with the picture of the robin and the crabapple.
“This was just an enchanting blend of nature’s compositions, and the photographer’s, working in tandem,” the judge mused. “So crisp and clear, too. This was the one I kept going back to, with ‘yes, it’s the one’ amidst many great entries.”
As a columnist, there was the first-place award for writing ‘From the Valley.’
The Fennimore Times editor more than demonstrated her amazing depth as a reporter, photographer and columnist.
“To anyone who has worked with Emily Schendel this was not as big of a surprise as you might think,” Independent-Scout editor Charley Preusser said of her accomplishments in the newspaper contest.
“Emily started working with us when she was a 17-year-old high school senior,” Preusser explained. “Before she graduated from high school that spring, she had taken the first of her many award-winning photographs.”
The North Crawford senior arrived at the office one fine spring day only to find she was being given the editor’s digital camera and the rural address of a barn fire. Her only orders were stay out of everyone’s way, take lots of photos and don’t run over any fire hoses.
Emily completed the assignment and returned to the office shaking and smelling of smoke. However, among the 100-some photos was a gripping shot of the farmer standing in his front yard watching his barn go up in a ball of flames. That photo won her first place for breaking news photos in the WNA contest that year. It would be the first of many.
“I’ve won awards for four or five of my fire photos over the years,” Schendel readily acknowledged.
Schendel has also won in the feature photo category before. One memorable photo of a white egret eating a minnow in the setting sunlight of the wetlands, stands out among the many she has taken.  
Schendel has designed and taken photos for photo essays that earned the Independent-Scout numerous awards in that category over the years.
“What I liked the most this year, was winning awards for my reporting and writing my column. I’ve had a lot of awards for photos, but not many for writing. So, this was a big deal for me,” Schendel said.
By the way, just before she started as a 17-year-old work-study employee for the Independent-Scout, Emily had some thoughts about not doing it and shared them with her mother. However, Rhonda Schendel was having none of it and ordered her daughter to get to work at the newspaper. Everybody is pretty happy with the way it worked out. Later, before she began writing her column, she then too had hesitations but by the encouragement of the Independent-Scout Staff and especially her grandmother-in-law, Janet, she decided to take the plunge and a successful plunge it has turned out to be.
Despite Emily Schendel’s grand success in the WNA Better Newspaper Contest this year, there’s a bitter-sweet side to the story. Just a week before the convention where she was to receive those awards, the WNA canceled the event because of the coronavirus pandemic. The convention was off and so was the big celebration some of the staff from Morris Newspapers Wisconsin were planning for one of their favorite homegrown journalists.

Well there’s always next year, because somehow you know this is not the last time Emily Schendel will be winning awards in the WNA Better Newspaper Contest.