The Sun Prairie Star won 10 awards in a statewide newspaper contest for its coverage of local business, sports and government during a year rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2020 Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation (WNAF) Better Newspaper Contest awards were announced on Friday, Feb. 19.
The honors capped off a challenging year for the newspaper industry, that like many other businesses during the pandemic, have faced revenue loss and staff cuts, but still aspire to importance of local journalism.
Associate Editor Jennifer Fetterly won first place (Division E) for Coronavirus Coverage for “The Double Whammy” story on how Sun Prairie businesses that survived the 2018 gas explosion are navigating the financial challenges of the pandemic. Downtown business owners Patrick DePula, Shannon Jambard, Gustavo Martinez and Mark Rudd were all part of the story, telling how COVID-19 impacted their livelihood.
The judges wrote of the story: “Sun Prairie is lucky to have Jennifer Fetterly sharing her gifts and community-minded concerns. These entries were all great, just like her other work I’d read in another category.”
Fetterly also earned third place for Reporting on Local Government and Breaking News Reporting of the June 2020 Black Lives Matter protest march to city hall. She also shared a third place with managing editor Chris Mertes for Business Coverage.
Even with the challenges of sports being curtailed during the pandemic, sports editor Jeff Seisser found a way to keep athletics alive by combing through Star Countryman and Star archives.
Seisser earned a first-place award in Division E for Sports Feature Story for his recollection of the 1995 Sun Prairie Cardinals WIAA State Football Championship entitled “25 years ago Cardinals realized the dream.” The judges wrote: “Really well done. Lots of great interviews with the former players, and enough detail that I felt like I had witnessed the championship season myself. Love the sidebar on the shoe change, too!”
Seisser also earned second place and honorable mention awards for Local Sports Column, a third-place for Sports News Story and a third place for Best Sports Pages.
“With the year that was I was elated to have been recognized by the WNA and the Better Newspaper Contest as many times as I did, considering the circumstances during 2020,” Seisser said. “With little-to-no sports being played during the pandemic, it was more challenging finding stories to write about than actually writing them.”
Mertes earned a third place in Division E for Editorials for his piece entitled, “Closed meetings equate to disappointing county leadership,” and “With a united approach, we are a stronger independent nation.”
The contest judges wrote, “Way to call out ‘informal conversations’ between government officials, clearly a no-no. Kudos for using open records requests. So many local officials need to be reminded that everything they do should be open to taxpayers and the public. And nice job on ‘United approach,’ balancing historical views against current distrust shown in polling.”
The 2020 Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation Better Newspaper Contest received 2,051 entries from 103 newspapers.
This year’s contest was judged by newspaper professionals from the Texas Press Association.
Competitions were judged across six circulation divisions — three daily and three weekly — unless otherwise noted.
The newspaper that accumulates the most overall points from editorial and advertising awards is named Best of Division.
The daily and weekly newspapers with the most points across their respective publication groups receive the Newspaper of the Year Awards.
Recipients of the 2020 Newspaper of the Year Awards were Publisher Orestes Baez and The Gazette, Janesville, (Daily Division) and Publisher Kurt Krueger and the Vilas County News-Review, Eagle River (Weekly Division).
The WNAF is a not-for-profit organization created in 1980. WNAF works to improve the quality and future of Wisconsin’s newspaper enterprises, the industry and the communities they serve.