The Stoughton Courier Hub won 11 statewide newspaper awards this year from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.
The awards included a first-place finish for feature (profile) story, and three second-place finishes, for a photo essay, a feature story and an ad.
The WNA announced the winners May 15. Awards covered the period of Sept. 1, 2018 to Aug. 31, 2019, and were judged by the New York Press Association that fall. The WNA had alerted newspapers of the awards in December but planned to announce and present them in March, before the COVID-19 crisis forced the cancellation of its annual convention.
The awards were among 29 overall in the annual contest for Unified Newspaper Group, which also publishes the Oregon Observer, Verona Press and Fitchburg Star. One of those was a third-place award for UNG’s quarterly magazine, Your Family, which is distributed with the Hub, though it was submitted as a Verona Press award.
UNG took home five first-place awards overall.
The Hub won first place for Mackenzie Krumme’s feature story on the Stoughton Area Youth Center and its longtime director, called “Respect self, others, space.”
Summer intern Mari Deveraux won a second place award for a feature story on a motorcycle group’s ride to support a man with cancer. Amber Levenhagen and Kimberly Wethal collaborated for a second-place award for our annual photo essay of Syttende Mai, and the Hub also earned a second-place award for an advertisement for Springers of Lake Kegonsa.
The Hub’s five third place awards were for Scott De Laruelle’s reporting on local education, Krumme’s localized national story, Alexander Cramer’s feature on the 30th anniversary of the clock tower restoration, our annual Pets Week special section and an ad for Kopke’s Greenhouse.
The Hub also earned two honorable mentions, for Mark Nesbitt’s sports section and Alexander Cramer’s coverage of local government.
The Hub staff collaborate on all publications in UNG, which dominated several categories. UNG took first, second and honorable mention in photo essay; first and second place in feature (profile); first and third place in special sections; second and third place in enterprise reporting; and second and third place in environmental reporting. UNG performed similarly in 2019, winning first and second place in education reporting; first and third place in photo essay; second and third in enterprise reporting and first and third in general news story.
In addition, for the third consecutive year, a UNG staff member earned a Rookie Reporter of the Year award. Wethal, a Cooksville native who primarily focuses on Verona and Fitchburg, took second place in that category. Alexander Cramer was an honorable mention in 2019, and Levenhagen was third place in 2018.
UNG also got first-place awards for photo essay, sports news story, open records reporting and special section.
The WNA recognizes winners in six categories – daily and weekly newspapers of three sizes each – in its statewide competition. The Hub was competing in the smallest category of weeklies, F, with circulations of 2,500 or fewer, along with the Press and Observer. The monthly Fitchburg Star is not eligible for WNA awards as a free publication.
UNG’s three weekly news publications earned 28 awards last year, 17 awards in 2018, 17 in 2017 and 16 in 2016 – when all nine members of the UNG editorial staff won at least one award – and 17 in 2015.
First and second place
Krumme, a Stoughton native who was in her first few months with the Hub, won first place for her feature story exploring the philosophy of the youth center and longtime director Greg Hoyte and how he teaches kids to respect others and themselves using positive messages and help from previous youth center participants.
“From an illustrative lede to a poignant conclusion, this is simply a well-told story, and a story well-written, start to finish,” the judge wrote.
Levenhagen and Wethal collaborated for a third and final time to photograph Stoughton’s Syttende Mai festival and produced a colorful, sharp and emotive three-page spread inside the Hub, along with Levenhagen’s adorable front-page photo of a young girl in a bunad. Levenhagen was unable to accept her award, as she died in August 2019 in an automobile accident.
“There are excellent photos of so many different activities, this is great event coverage showing a real sense of community,” the judge wrote. “This photo spread makes a viewer with no prior information about the Norwegian festival feel like they’re there and anxious to attend next year. The facial expressions show a range of emotions and personalities and every photo is well framed. Great job.”
Deveraux’s initiative in her profile feature, “A reason to ride” got her on the back of one of more than 20 motorcycles from the Capital City Riders club as they took a drive by the home of Dennis Burns, the grandfather of one of its members, after he had been diagnosed with cancer for a second time. Deveraux, a student at Columbia College, wove together vivid images of the ride with Burns’ own journey for a touching piece.
“This story captures both the moment and the people behind it in colorful and insightful detail,” the judge wrote.
Third and honorable mention
De Laruelle’s education coverage showed his range as a reporter. One piece dug into how the Stoughton Area School District is using the Nurtured Heart Approach to handling discipline and understanding kids’ behavior. Another explored how three different schools used innovation grants to create “outdoor classrooms” that use nature for all sorts of lessons. A third story analyzed some cautiously optimistic news about the district’s student population decline.
Krumme’s third-place localized story detailed how local resident and city alder Sid Boersma worked with mass shooting survivors in Dayton, Ohio.
Alexander Cramer’s (non-profile) feature story, “Top of the hour,” commemorated the community’s efforts in the late 1980s to restore the iconic clock tower atop what is now the Stoughton Opera House building, nearly 30 years after it had been removed.
“A very interesting account, with multiple sources, on how a small town restored its iconic clock tower building 30 years ago, pushing ahead as a community despite such distractions as a wrenching local labor strike and a drought affecting area farmers,” the judge wrote. “This is a good example of how digging into the past can produce a fine enterprise-reporting feature!”
Cramer’s reporting on local government entries featured a piece digging into records about an officer being sued for his arrest of a man at a convenience store; a look at a debate by the Town of Rutland over whether to impose penalties on Madison International Speedway for noise and the city’s efforts to develop the Yahara riverfront.
“Good tracking on officer details,” the judge wrote. “Solid investigative and records work.”
Nesbitt’s sports section design entry included pages from September 2018 and February and March 2019. Criteria also included coverage, writing quality and photography and design.
“One of a family of affiliated papers which feature colorful graphics and comprehensive coverage of game stories as well as individual achievements, supported by thoughtful sidebars with history and data as well as a What’s Next box for the next game,” the judge wrote. “This one stood out because its stories seemed to emphasize not only what happened but why.”