River News reporter Jamie Taylor, sales representative Jay Anderle, lead editor Heather Schaefer, sports editor Jeremy Mayo, publisher Gregg Walker and circulation manager Corey Richter celebrate the newspaper being named Newspaper of the Year in Division C in the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundationís annual Better Newspaper Contest. Photo by Dean Hall/Lakeland Times.
5/22/2020 7:29:00 AM River News named Division C Newspaper of the Year
Newspaper earns 30 WNA awards, 10 first place
River News Staff
With a total of 30 awards, including 10 first-place honors and a second place award for general excellence, the Northwoods River News has been named the Division C Newspaper of the Year in the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation's Better Newspaper Contest.
The annual contest included 2,533 entries from 106 newspapers. Eligible entries were published between Sept. 1, 2018, and Aug. 31, 2019, and were judged by members of the New York Press Association.
The contest honorees are usually recognized at the annual WNA banquet, which was to be held in Pewaukee in late March, however this year's event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Winners were announced late Friday, May 15, via press release.
"I'm very proud of the staff of the River News," said publisher Gregg Walker. "Anytime you can take the award for best in division and bring home 30 awards from your peers and toughest critics, it is a tremendous accomplishment. In the history of the Daily News and now the River News, this is the first time it has been done. The Rhinelander community should be proud of this award."
The River News was recognized in a variety of categories including news, sports and outdoors reporting.
Sports editor Jeremy Mayo, former production manager Sasha Case and freelance photographer Bob Mainhardt took first-place honors in the sports section category.
"Strongest entry in a category where all seven submissions were strong," the New York Press Association member who judged the category wrote. "Good mix of local and national sports. Loved the photos and more photos."
The judges also recognized the late Jacob Friede with a first place award for his story on the Northwoods Invitational in Harshaw. River News sports editor Jeremy Mayo took third place in the same category for his story on the RHS boys' swim team's third-place finish at state.
"For the River News to have taken two of the top three sports stories in Division C is truly remarkable, and obviously bittersweet," Mayo said. "My only wish is that Jacob (who died in a boating accident in April) would have been around to receive his award, which would have happened if the awards banquet had not been canceled due to COVID-19. Obviously, we lost him a few weeks later, and I can only imagine what the look on his face would have been to know he was considered one of the best in the state. In the brief time I was able to work with Jacob, it was clear he had a knack of telling a story in an understated, down-to-earth way. His stories were approachable and engaging. I'm proud that he was able to lead us to a 1-3 finish in that category."
Friede and River News outdoors reporter Beckie Gaskill also received first place honors for best special pages and Mayo received a third place award for his Shoutouts and Callouts column.
"It is especially gratifying to see the WNA recognize Jeremy, Jacob and Beckie," River News lead editor Heather Schaefer said. "Jeremy puts his heart and soul into covering our local sports teams and it shows in every section he produces. Similarly, Beckie infuses all of her stories with such enthusiasm for the natural world around us. She truly understands the role of the outdoors in Northwoods culture. Jacob was one of the most gifted, and unassuming, writers I've had the pleasure of working with in my 20 years in the newspaper business. Though we lost him far too soon, his legacy will live on through all the beautiful words he left behind."
Mayo noted the first place award for best sports section was especially meaningful to him.
"This award means more to me, personally, than any other award this sports department has received in my 8 1/2 years with the paper," he said. "Just like Newspaper of the Year, it's all the elements coming together in a way that is engaging to our readers. It's content. It's photography. It's page design. While three names are listed on the award, again, it's a collaborative effort of everyone - including, editors, circulation, advertising - that allows us to bring you the quality and quantity of sports coverage we have over the years. What's more, Best Sports Section was a combined category with a number of daily and multi-day-a-week newspapers large and small across the state all involved - some in markets that put a greater emphasis, and rightfully so, on pro and collegiate sports. The River News winning this award proves that prep and local sports - and their place in the fabric of small-town communities like Rhinelander - truly matter. That's what we try to show in each edition of the River News."
On the news side of the ledger, River News reporter/photographer Jamie Taylor took first place in the General News photo category for his shot of Marathon County Circuit Judge Jill Falstad staring down Robin Mendez while announcing her guilty verdict in his murder trial. Schaefer and Taylor also received second-place honors for their coverage of the resolution of this famous Northwoods cold case.
"Courtroom photography is exceedingly challenging and Jamie is certainly one of the best at capturing the unique mix of emotions at play when a verdict is announced. This shot, which captured a moment of reckoning more than 35 years in the making, was stunning," Schaefer said.
Taylor was also honored for his coverage of local government and his story on vaping among high school students.
Schaefer and Taylor also received a Honorable Mention for their coverage of another crime story, the reckless homicide trial of Ellen Tran in October 2018.
"This was certainly one of the most challenging stories of my entire career," Schaefer said of the case which involved the death of a toddler at the hands of his stepmother. "Little Avery and his mother, Lori Edwards, made an indelible impression on both of us. We were honored to tell their story but fervently hope we never have to share another like it."
Lakeland Times photographer Dean Hall also took first place in the Spot News photo category for his shot of a rollover accident in Hazelhurst.
The judge in that category praised Hall for capturing "the aftermath of a scary moment and a surprisingly serene scene."
The River News also took second place in the General Excellence category, which recognizes the paper's staff as a whole, and won honors for achievement in ad design, promotion, special sections and other categories. The total number of points accumulated led to the River News winning Best in Division honors in Division C, a first for the paper.
"It is such an honor to work in a newsroom and for a company that strives for excellence as much as we do here at the River News," Mayo said in reaction to the Best in Division win. "I look at the width and breadth of the awards we won and it truly shows the collaborative effort that was put forth. From reporters to editors to photographers to graphic designers to account managers, literally every single person who works for this paper had a hand in us being recognized as Division C Newspaper of the Year."
"After seeing (our sister paper) the Lakeland Times win their division for several years, I knew we at the River News were just as capable of doing it, too," Taylor noted. "But to do it after being moved from the weekly to daily category made the accomplishment even more enjoyable. Over the last couple years, we have become a really tight-knit team that pushes each other to do better work and it paid off."
The Lakeland Times, based in Minocqua, had another stellar year, capturing 50 awards and once again taking home weekly Newspaper of the Year honors.
"We salute our colleagues at Lakeland for another outstanding year and thank the judges for all of their kind words," Schaefer said. "We look forward to next year."
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
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