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Reporters on the move at the Independent-Scout
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Fall is the time for change it seems…leaves change colors….children return to school….things just seem to happen in the fall. Though we’re jumping the official start of the season by more than a month, there will definitely be some changes at the Independent-Scout this fall. They start with reporter Erin Martin, who has decided to become the Boscobel Dial reporter. Longtime Independent-Scout staffer Emily Schendel will take on a much larger role at the newspaper, as she takes over Martin’s duties.

Of course, editor Charley Preusser and advertising manager Bonnie Olson will remain in their respective positions, while Kile Martz will continue to be available as a substitute when needed.

Erin’s role as the Dial reporter will offer her more hours with a concentration on reporting.

“Our office is a pretty small operation and Erin was called upon to do much more than just reporting,” Independent-Scout editor Charley Preusser explains. “Here, she has to act as receptionist, page designer, IT person and the list goes on. In Boscobel, they have more people and her role will be much more focused on reporting. It’s a little scary losing someone with that many talents, but luckily we have Emily.”

Although rather young, Emily Schendel has a long and productive history with the Independent-Scout. She started in the fall of 2006 as a North Crawford High School senior in the school-to-work program. She has left and returned to the newspaper twice since that first stint.

As a young reporter, Emily took a photo of a barn fire that earned her a first place award for spot news photography in the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Better Newspapers Contest. Emily went on to win several other honors for photos she would take at the Independent-Scout.

The Dial is also getting a WNA award-winning journalist in Erin Martin, who has won first place for environmental reporting on more than one occasion, another first place for freedom on information stories and numerous other awards for stories, photos and page design.

“One thing, I can say about working at the newspaper is it’s not just about writing stories; people stop by and share tidbits and recollections,” Erin says of her time with the Independent-Scout.

Erin started with the local newspaper in January of 2011, taking over for reporter Andreas Transø. It was a part-time position that got larger quickly as the Independent-Scout took on production of almost the entire newspaper from the Boscobel Dial. Prior to that, only a few of the pages were done in Gays Mills.

“My hours went up and my responsibilities went up, when we started laying out the paper here,” Erin recalls.

Despite her page design, IT responsibilities and host of other tasks, Erin found time to report on stories in a timely and informative manner.

Some of her major stories were about a proposed high capacity well on a property adjacent to Copper Creek, the death of a student after being physically restrained by Wyalusing Academy staff in Prairie du Chien; a Freedom of Information request over the proprietary voting machines and their records; and the controversy surrounding the siting of a frac sand mine in the Lower Wisconsin Riverway.

However, it wasn’t just the big headlines that garnered attention for the reporter from local readers. Erin told some great stories about attending the organic farming conference in LaCrosse, being present at the Second Harvest Food Pantry in Gays Mills and much more.

Although Erin had plenty of experience in writing in college and at a variety of jobs over the years, she had no training in journalism. She learned a lot quickly at the Independent-Scout.

“I learned it was about brevity and ordering your writing,” Erin recalls. “It’s about what’s in the first paragraph. In longer forms of writing, that’s not the case.”

Why the Boscobel Dial?

“Well, it’s fulltime employment,” Erin answers without hesitation. “It’s also an opportunity to learn a new community and write more stories.”

Although Erin may start work in Boscobel this week, it doesn’t mean she’s leaving Gays Mills. She owns a home in Gays Mills and likes the community, so she is not intending to move.

Another thing Erin will miss is her job at the Soldiers Grove Public Library, where she has worked for the past 10 years.

“That’s a whole community I will have to make a special effort to see and spend time with—my library people,” she says with some obvious regrets. Erin will miss working with librarian Cele Wolf, a good friend, as well as her boss at the library.

Well, if Erin is moving on to meet new people and learn a new job in a new community, Emily is coming home to a newspaper where she has already twice served as a reporter.

After being selected for the school-to-work program, Emily initially wasn’t sure about the job at the Independent-Scout. Her mother Rhonda Schendel encouraged her to take advantage of the opportunity. Emily did that, but still had her doubts.

“It wasn’t great until I saw my byline on the front page, then I wanted to do it,” she recalls.

Things got interesting in a hurry for the high school student turned cub reporter. On Sunday, Aug. 19, 2007, a massive flood unexpectedly swamped Gays Mills in the early morning hours. Homes and businesses in the downtown area were severely flooded. There was little or no warning. The office of the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout was inundated by 31 inches of water and just about everything, including the computers, was lost.

Emily and Charley were left to meet a deadline in 48 hours without anything and without an office. As fate would have it, they were also without the newspaper’s other employee, Bonnie Olson, who was ill at the time.

The editor and reporter pulled together that week’s edition with the help of the Boscobel Dial staff in their office and made the deadline.

Together, Emily and Charley would put out three issues from the Boscobel Dial office, before they could return to their Main Street office in Gays Mills. It was a coming of age experience for the reporter and there was more to come.

On Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2007 as they were finishing another edition of the paper, a call on the scanner went out to the Gays Mills Fire Department that a barn was on fire in Bell Center. Tied to completing the week’s newspaper on deadline, Charley sent Emily out with a camera to get photos. Arriving at the Dennis and Donna Bell farm ahead of the responding fire trucks led to another transformative moment in the reporter’s life.

“I remember getting out of the car and feeling how hot it was,” Emily recalls.

Crawford County Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Fortney gave her the same directions that Charley had given when she left the office.

“Just stay out of the way,” Justin told her.

“It was horrible,” she remembers. “I could hear all the cows.”

Emily saw Donna Bell arrive and collapse from emotion in the yard.

“It was traumatizing,” Emily says of the moment. The photo of Dennis looking across his yard at the barn engulfed in flames won her the WNA award for a spot news photo in 2007.

Emily would leave for Madison in a few months only to return later in September of 2008 and work for the newspaper. Then, she left again.

At one point, Emily was the production manager of Street Pulse, a Madison newspaper focused on the homeless and transient population living there. However, with her heart in the Kickapoo Valley, she returned for the second time. That was two years ago and again she started working part-time for the Independent-Scout.

Emily’s larger role made available by Erin’s decision to take the Dial reporter job, works well for her. As always, Emily has ambitions to contribute and improve the newspaper.

“I want to bump up the photography because visual images are so important to a small paper like this,” Emily says. “I also want to expand the content by focusing on hyper-local stories with lots of human interest.”

Emily Schendel currently lives in Readstown and plans to complete an associate’s degree in sociology this spring at UW-Richland.