“It was a team effort from start to finish and most of the team is standing on the stage,” Charley Preusser told the more than 500 people attending the awards banquet of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Convention last Friday.
With that, the editor of the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout acknowledged the achievements and help of reporters Emily Schendel and Gillian Pomplun, who joined him on stage.
The trio were presented with a large crystal cup to honor winning the most awards in Division F of the WNA Better Newspaper Contest. Emily Schendel, the new mother at newspaper, cradled the large cup like she would her ten-month-old son Thatcher, and Gillian Pomplun, secured the base for the cup.
Preusser thanked Independent-Scout office manager Bonnie Olson for her help throughout the year. Olson was the only office staff member to not attend the convention. The editor also thanked the Morris Newspaper Corporation of Wisconsin for their support of the newspaper and the WNA for the help they supply throughout the year.
Then, the trio from the Independent-Scout returned to the table with their cup. It was quite a night and actually quite a year for the little newspaper from Gays Mills and the four rural Crawford County residents who create it every week.
The Independent-Scout was selected as the Division F winner for weekly newspapers with less than a 2,200 circulation. Winning the division was based on the 16 individual awards the newspaper won this year.
It started with four first place awards—including two won by Gillian Pomplun in her 13-week substitute reporter role filling in for Emily Schendel, while she was on maternity leave. It was quite an accomplishment for a woman with no real background in reporting or journalism.
Pomplun won first place for Environmental Reporting for a series of stories on the county conservation plan. She also won first place for writing a sports feature story on the creation of a varsity trap shooting team at Seneca High School.
“To win two first place awards was great,” Pomplun said. “While the awards in Madison are all fine and well, it’s really appreciation from the readers that is the true award.”
Pomplun remembered in particular a call from trapshooting coach Dave Benzing on Wednesday morning after the trapshooting story ran.
“It was one of the most rewarding moments I can remember, after I got off the phone with him I felt like I was floating,” Pomplun said.
Schendel won first place for an artistic feature photo of apples on a branch at sunset in the Hillcrest Orchard. Schendel seemed to enjoy her first WNA Convention.
“I really wanted to go this year after we won so many awards,” Schendel said later. “I wanted to see what all the hype was about.”
The photo judging surprised the reporter. Taking first place for the ‘artistic feature photo’ was the most surprising,” Schendel said. “I was headed back to the car after being out in the orchards and this beautiful cluster of apples on a branch just appeared in front of me…so I took the picture. It ran on the front page in color and printed beautifully with the red against the green.”
Preusser won fist place for a general news story about a meeting of local residents wanting to preserve their right to cross railroad tracks to gain access to the Mississippi River.
The Independent-Scout also won four second place awards and Schendel won two of them. One was for a feature photo of a Great White Egret. The other was for a photo essay of the Readstown Labor Day Celebration.
Preusser won second place for a general news photo from Ferryville Ag Days called ‘Fun in Wheelbarrow.’ The photo immediately impressed the judge.
“When I saw this photo, I knew it was going to place….I actually found myself laughing out loud looking at the expressions and fun captured here. Excellent job!”
Another second place winner was columnist Jan Schmidt for her sometimes humorous and sometimes insightful column ‘Jane’s World.’
“The first year I started writing for the paper they called and told me I had won! It was exciting….” Jane said. “Winning again, makes me feel the same. Writing a weekly column can be challenging with a full schedule…(but) I have a terrific writing coach, Tamera, who reminds me to read each column out loud and revise each piece…I'm proud to be writing for a paper that took the best paper in their division... Thank you, Charley, and company for the opportunity to share my stories with your readers.”
The Independent-Scout won three third places in the WNA-BNC.
One of those awards went to the newspaper’s other local columnist, John Gibbs. Gibbs and Schmidt have each won first place for local columns in past years.
Reporter Emily Schendel won third place for her story of the sentencing of Dalton Mikkelson in a vehicular homicide case in Vernon County.
New to the winner’s circle this year, local outdoor writer Len Harris won third place for his feature story about ‘the castle’ built in rural Gays Mills.
Additionally, the Independent-Scout received five honorable mentions in the contest. They were for headlines, investigative reporting, a photo essay and reporting on local education.
“Well, we enter the contest because we want to win, but this is a bit startling,” Preusser acknowledged earlier this week. “It’s great to be honored by your peers in journalism, but we’re honored every week by our readers who choose to read our newspaper. It’s been a pretty good year and we’re promising a party this spring when we install all of these awards on the walls of our office in the Gays Mills Mercantile Center—stay tuned for details on that.”