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Wausau Pilot & Review

Staff at Wausau Pilot & Review on Friday earned four awards at the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s annual conference, including two first-place finishes.

Darren Siewert and Shereen Siewert were named as first-place winners in the breaking news reporting category for a series of stories offering minute-by-minute team coverage of a shooting spree at Wausau’s Pine Grove Cemetery that left a Wausau woman dead and two people injured. Police say Henry “Hank” West meticulously prepared for the attack and could have killed dozens, or even hundreds, of people had his plans not been foiled by first responders.

“Compelling coverage of a trying situation,” contest judge’s comments read. “Good job at getting accurate information out in a timely manner and getting details in follow-up stories.”

Shereen Siewert also took top honors in the environmental reporting category for her ongoing coverage of soil testing plans and concerns at Riverside Park in Wausau. For years, residents worried about potential soil contamination in Riverside Park and asserted there may be issues with cancer-causing soil dioxin levels exceeding state standards. After months of urging from a resident group, the city finally authorized testing that revealed concentrations of dioxin and furan that exceed the DNR’s not-to-exceed direct contact limits for a non-industrial setting.

The contest judge had this to say about the series:

“Thorough and dogged reporting on an activist group’s repeated calls for soil testing. The newspaper shed light on shifting reasoning used for the city’s reticence to do the testing. It’s clear the paper had a good grasp on the topic and its importance to the area but did not bow to pressure from either side. Instead, the paper delivered straightforward reporting its readers deserved.”

Freelance photographer Jacob Sieg, from Then & Now Art, earned a second-place nod for his photo essay, “Empty spaces: Scenes from Wausau in the days of COVID-19,” with Shereen Siewert named as editor.

“Really tells the somber story of how the pandemic has ravaged local economies and communities,” the judge wrote.

See the photo essay, which offered a haunting look at the community in the days after Gov. Tony Evers issued his first Safer at Home order in March, here.

Shereen Siewert also received an honorable mention in the feature story category for telling the story of Lisa Berg, a Tomahawk native still struggling with the impacts of COVID-19 on her health.

“’If I can get it, anyone can’: Months after COVID-19 diagnosis, symptoms persist,” outlined a healthy woman’s battle with devastating symptoms that lingered for months and resulted in ongoing challenges for Berg, who now lies in Colorado.

“Beautiful story about a very current topic,” the judge wrote. “Good job writing it sensitively.”

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.

“We are humbled by these awards, especially given our comparatively small staff,” Publisher Shereen Siewert said. “I am incredibly proud of Darren and Jacob, and thankful to the people of our community who trust us to tell their stories. We are looking forward to making an even bigger impact in 2021.”

Wausau Pilot & Review is the area’s only nonprofit, online, independent news outlet offering comprehensive coverage of the metro area. The organization is reader-supported and has earned both statewide and national recognition.