Oshkosh Northwestern wins Wisconsin newspaper award for fighting for public records, two other journalism honors

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The Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture on Thursday, July 29, 2021, at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wis. Attendance at AirVenture is up from years past after the EAA canceled AirVenture 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture on Thursday, July 29, 2021, at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wis. Attendance at AirVenture is up from years past after the EAA canceled AirVenture 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

OSHKOSH - The Northwestern won a top award for reporting on public records and two other honors in this year's Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation Better Newspaper Contest.

The awards were presented Friday during the foundation's annual banquet in Madison, which honored newspapers from across the state, divided into classes by readership size, in a variety of categories, including reporting, photography, advertising, design and more. Stories up for consideration at this year's awards were published between September 2020 and August 2021.

Former editor Nathaniel Shuda and reporter Alex Groth split a first-place win; photographer Bill Glasheen took a first place-award for his photography; and former reporter Lydia Slattery netted a second-place award for one of her stories.

Shuda and Groth's first-place win was an Open Records/Freedom of Information Award for a story on the resignation and criticism of Oshkosh schools' superintendent, and the method by which the school board selected a successor.

Wisconsin's open meetings law generally prohibits local government officials such as school boards from making decisions in closed session, with few exceptions, and state public records law requires governments to release the names of at least five finalists for local public offices and the identities of newly selected local officials in a timely manner.

The board selected a new superintendent on May 24, 2021, during a closed session meeting, but told The Northwestern it would not identify the candidate for nearly a week. The Northwestern subsequently requested records associated with the board's decision, including the name of the person it selected, under the state's public records law.

Photography of the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual AirVenture convention netted The Northwestern its second first-place win, with Glasheen's gallery of images from the convention's fourth day.

"Good use of blurred motion gives readers a sense of the speed of these flying machines," judges wrote. "A lot of non-traditional photographs of an airshow. The photographer did more than look up; he looked around."

Slattery's second-place win was for business coverage, based on three stories:

"I really enjoyed the original perspectives in this entry, but especially the article on homelessness," judges wrote. "It was a fresh and nuanced take on a complicated topic that provided context and compassion for the people it centered on. The accompanying articles — all solidly written — explored different issues in the area that, purposefully or not, better informed each other story. These are issues in every community, but the author’s writing style, chosen subjects and attention to detail made them feel both universal and local at the same time."

USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin wins six statewide awards

In addition to the local awards collected by The Northwestern, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin won six statewide awards, including three firsts. Here's more about those awards:

• Network staff, as a group, claimed first place in the Community Engagement Award Daily Division category for its school COVID-19 crowdsourcing. The judge wrote of the project: “This is a clear example of the good newspapers are capable of fighting for on behalf of their communities. The easy-to-navigate database, accompanied by an explanatory, detailed story on the situation, certainly gave parents and community members tools they were missing to make the best decisions for their health and safety. I have no doubt this project was successful in building community trust.”

• Reporters Natalie Brophy and Nusaiba Mizan won first place in the Ongoing/Extended Coverage category for their article series “Businesses say finding employees is their top headache. This series explores the trends behind Wisconsin’s workforce woes.” The judge wrote: “Such a timely series. Many have hear about the worker shortage, but this gives an easy-to-understand look into the intricacies of what is actually happening and what some of the proposed solutions might entail. Wonderful work.”

• Reporter Madeline Heim won first place in the Coronavirus Coverage category for her articles “As Wisconsin hospitals fill up with COVID patients, front-line workers sound the alarm” and “Contact tracers were supposed to be key players in fighting COVID-19. But as Wisconsin’s cases surge, they’re overwhelmed.” The judge wrote: “Madeline Heim takes a deep dive into pandemic coverage, providing readers of USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin with in-depth coverage and personal stories of the public health emergency. The quality of her work, and obvious time and energy invested into her articles, shows. Congrats.”

• Reporter AnnMarie Hilton took third place in the Feature Story (Non-profile) category for her story “Everything you need to know about Wisconsin’s water towers: The good, the ‘evil,’ and the people who swim in your drinking water.” The judge wrote: “Through superb story-telling and fun anecdotes, this piece made waters towers — water towers! — one of the most interesting things in your town.”

• Reporters Jeff Bollier, Brophy and Mizan won third place in the Enterprise/Interpretive Reporting category for their series “Unaffordable: No place to call home.” The judge wrote of the series: “Ambitious project that used situations of a cast of characters as the vehicle to tell a story about the cost of housing. Those voices and their individual set of circumstances made the entire series of stories approachable and relatable. Nice concept, excellent execution.”

• Reporter Frank Vaisvilas, a Report For America corps member who covers Indigenous affairs for the network, was awarded honorable mention in the Investigative Reporting category for his story “American Indians incarcerated at among highest rates in Wisconsin, as many as half the inmates in some jails.” The judge wrote: “Excellent piece which illustrates the difficulties experienced by an often under-represented group of people. Author demonstrates strong research and storytelling skills. Solid piece.”

The Northwestern thanks its readers for their continued support, and aims to continue to serve Winnebago County and the surrounding communities with top-notch local journalism. To submit a tip for consideration or join the conversation, email oshkoshnews@thenorthwestern.com.

USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin staff contributed to this report. 

Reach Taima Kern at tkern@gannett.com or 920-907-7819.

This article originally appeared on Oshkosh Northwestern: Oshkosh Northwestern wins three awards in WNA Better Newspaper Contest