The Vilas County News-Review re­ceived 27 Better Newspaper Contest awards for writing, photography and advertising design, and for the first time ever won the Weekly Newspaper of the Year for all weekly divisions.

Contest winners were announced last Friday via a virtual awards program, as the in-person 167th annual convention of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association (WNA) was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WNA Foundation received 2,051 entries from 103 newspapers for the 2020 contest, awarding the News-Review 13 firsts, seven seconds, five thirds and two honorable mention certificates. The News-Review also publishes The Three Lakes News.

Publisher Kurt Krueger said the paper’s Weekly Newspaper of the Year honor reflects the excellent work being done by the entire editorial, advertising and production staff. The News-Review previously won Best of Division honors in 2011, ’13, ’15 and ’17, but never won both the Best of Division and Newspaper of the Year.

The News-Review competed in the large weekly division with circulation of 3,501 or more. Krueger thanked the WNA and his staff for the Newspaper of the Year honor via Zoom to those watching the virtual program. 

“On behalf of my great staff, thank you to the Wisconsin Newspaper Association for its Better Newspaper Contest and to all who entered this year and in the past, for the process itself is a catalyst for quality journalism, friendly competition and a personal pride that is, in my mind, the foundation of newspapering excellence,” said Krueger.

“Editor Gary Ridderbusch, production, lead production technician Betsy Boulden and I have been chasing down awards and Best In Division honors together for 35 years, and this first-ever Weekly Newspaper of the Year is the culmination of all that effort,” said Krueger. “Of course it’s always been a team effort right down to the production, sales, editorial, mailroom and bookkeeping departments, for everybody plays a role in the success of a community newspaper. 

“This is a David vs. Goliath moment for us and our editorial staff of just two people, for much of our competition in Division D have staffs that are double or triple that size,” said Krueger. “I am proud to be associated with this small but extremely talented group of people.”

Some of the other coveted awards in 2020 included a first place for the Bill Payne Award recognizing the best single ad in Division D; a first place for All-Around Newspaper Photography for all weekly papers; a first place for Best Lifestyle/Feature Pages for all weekly papers; a first place Editorial Award; and a second place for the Community Engagement Award for its Warm The Children program under the direction of Assistant Production Manager Toni Ruthven. 

Of the 27 News-Review awards, 16 were in writing and photography categories and 11 were for advertising. This year’s contest was judged by newspaper professionals from the Texas Press Association.

Editorial/photo awards

The first-place award for All-Around Newspaper Photography went to Ridderbusch, assistant editors Michelle Drew and Doug Etten, and Krueger in the category for all weekly newspapers.

The judge’s commented: “Action and feature photos were both well done. Good use of different angles and views. Cropped well. Liked the photo groupings.”

The News-Review’s Lifestyle Pages won a first for all weeklies, with the award going to Drew and Ridderbusch.

The judge’s said: “A true lifestyle section . . . content is great. Loved the band writeups. Overall, awesome job.”

The first place Editorial Award was for three local editorials produced by the newspaper’s Editorial Board of Krueger, Ridderbusch, Drew and Etten. They were titles: “UW-Extension programs are vital and a bargain”; “Critical that forest users learn, comment on plan”; and “DOT?fails once again to give adequate notice.”

Ridderbusch and Production Manager Jean Drew won a first-place award in the Overall Page Design category.

The judges said: “Wow! These pages pop! Beautiful photography! Overall design is very clean and crisp. Easy to read and great use of white space.”

Krueger received a first-place in the Outdoor Column category for all newspapers. The column topics were: “Hunting dogs fit state’s conservation ethic”; A harmless forest walk ends in tragedy”; and “Father-daughter fishing trips never get old.”

Etten took a first-place in the Sports Feature Photo category for “Snow Ball” taken at a high school soccer game during a snowstorm.

The judge said: “Great shot, especially in light of the weather. It is hard to shoot and keep focus in the midst of flurry.”

Freelance photographer Kerry Griebenow of Three Lakes received a first-place award in the Artistic Photo category for his photo “Practice Burn” taken during a Three Lakes Fire Department training session.

The judge commented: “We all shoot fires, but this one is artistic. Very well done.”

Griebenow also received a second in the Feature Photo category for a photo titled Popular Road.”

The “Practice Burn” photo also received a third place in the General News Photo category, with the judge commenting: “This is a great photo. Lots of great layers to this photo with the sun rays, flames and water.”

The News-Review won a second for Best Opinion Pages going to Krueger, Ridderbusch, Drew and Etten. 

The judge’s wrote: “Nice robust, diverse subjects on your editorial pages, good use of local, regional and national commentary. It makes for good reader engagement. Good issues and I like the use of a local photo to enhance pages . . . keep up the good work.”

Ridderbusch received a second-place honor for Reporting on Local Government for stories on: “County, tribe collaborate on inmate recovery plan”; “City wins grant for school road”; and “Equalized property values increase 2% in Vilas, 3% in Oneida.”

The judge said: “Well-rounded coverage. Great work on rounding up all the data for the property values story.”

The News-Review received a second place for Best Sports Pages for large weeklies, with Etten and Ridderbusch receiving the honor.

Ridderbusch and Etten received a second-place award in the Sports News Story category in Division D title “A three-peat for Stephenson; Blanchert first woman to reach title race.”

The judge’s said: “Loved the art and the story. You did an excellent job of sharing and explaining a unique story.”

Etten also received a third-place award in the Sports News Story category for a story titled “Wisconsin legislators support new bill to curtail harassment of game officials.

The judge commented: “Thank you for covering this story. Your telling of the need and support of legislation protecting officials is well done and hopefully fans will take heed going forward.”

Krueger received an honorable mention award in the Photo Essay category for his essay titled “Spring Show.” 

The judge said: “Loved seeing photos of wildlife; not easy shots to get!”

Advertising award

The News-Review garnered the top advertising honor — the Bill Payne Award — for the best ad in Division D. The ad was designed for the World Championship Derby Complex and was titled “57 Years.” Boulden and Krueger designed the ad and Krueger and Ridderbusch took the photos.

The judge commented: “Great use of photos. Makes you want to stop and look at the entire ad.”

The “57 Years” ad also won the Best Use of Local Photography award for all weekly newspapers. The judge said: “The combination of actions shots made this submission a winner.”

The Derby ad also received a first place for Best Use of Color, with the judges saying, “Great use of color and coordinating photos. Easy to read.”

The “57 Years” ad garnered a second-place award in the Best Large Ad category. The judge said: “Very good use of photos from the event and blending in the background. Good use of typestyles and varying weights.”

The News-Review received a first-place award for Best Ad Idea (Series) for the World Championship Derby Complex. The ads, by Boulden and advertising consultant Jo Daniel, were for the Enduro, Derby Dash and World Championship Snowmobile Derby. 

The judge said: “Action packed and fun to look at. Very professional work.”

The News-Review won a first-place honor for Best Multiple Advertiser Spread (signature ad) promoting the 2020 Derby. Honors went to Boulden and the advertising consultants at the News-Review. The judge said: “Photos and backgrounds blend well together. Good use of type color. Sigs were very clean and the different colors of logos make an appealing ad.”

Boulden and Daniel also teamed up for a first-place honor in the Best Small Ad titled “New Year’s Eve at Gateway Lodge.” The judge said: “Great use of graphic and black background to draw attention.”

The Gateway ad also received a third-place in the Best Restaurant Ad category, with the judge saying “You don’t need color to make a great ad and this is one example. Nice graphics, simple use of only a couple of fonts and you got the point across.”

The News-Review took second- and third-place honors in the Best Newspaper Promotion category. The second was for “Traffic Jam” by Boulden and Krueger. The judge said: “It was really tough to choose between first and second place. I like the use of photos and the easy way you draw the reader in. Nicely done.” The third was for “Photo Gallery” by Boulden, Krueger and Ridderbusch. The judge said: “Nice bold selling point. Nicely laid out. I like this ad a lot.”

Boulden and Krueger also received an honorable mention in the Bill Payne category for an ad for Northern Lakes Landscaping titled “Now Bidding Landscaping.” The judge said: “Great photo. Good color choices.”

Meet the team

Other staff at the News-Review office in Eagle River include photo technician David Werner, production technician David Heuss, advertising consultants Mary Jo Adamovich, NiCole Peterson and Chris Boone, Circulation Manager Elizabeth Schmidt and accounting managers Goldie Zarnoth and Terry Posto (recently retired). Other personnel in the office include Angie Morrill and Amber Arndt Johnson.

Ridderbusch said producing a quality large weekly newspaper wouldn't be possible without the assistance of freelance writers, including news correspondent Ken Anderson, who provides coverage of the Eagle River City Council, Northland Pines School Board and Vilas County Board, and Dean Acheson, covering Minocqua and Rhinelander.

The newspaper also has community correspondents vital to gathering local news and photos, including Kerry Griebenow in Three Lakes, Wally Geist in St. Germain, Sharon Gifford in Phelps, and Bob Hughes in Land O’ Lakes.