Two reporters for The Lakeland Times recently won awards at the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s convention in Madison late last month.
Joe VanDeLaarschot, one of the Times’ reporters who covers local government beats, won first place in Division D of the WNA’s Open Records and Freedom of Information category.
The Times’ outdoors writer, Craig Turk, was the paper’s other winner at this year’s WNA convention.
The story for which VanDeLaarschot won his award was published June 2012 and was a part of a series about fired Vilas County jail administrator Tim Evenson.
At the time, Evenson, who was seeking back pay, benefits and punitive damages, had been fired by Vilas County Sherriff Frank Tomlanovich.
Evenson had maintained his firing was related to Tomlanovich’s stepson, Chad Rosinski, who was hired for the jail administrator’s position after Evenson’s firing.
Tomlanovich denied Rosinski’s hiring had anything to do with Evenson’s firing.
Ultimately, Evenson and Vilas County settled out of court.
As it played out, the story was told in The Lakeland Times by VanDeLaarschot, who got his start in newspapers writing for The News, a weekly newspaper in Shawano.
“The Shawano Leader then hired me away from them because that was their competition,” he said.
After about five years at the Shawano Leader he was named the managing editor of The Ironwood Daily Globe where he worked for five years. After his stint at The Globe, was hired by The Lakeland Times and served 18 months as the managing editor of the former Rhinelander Daily News when it was purchased by Gregg Walker and was renamed The Northwoods River News. He then returned to the Lakeland Times about 14 months ago.
Before entering print journalism, VanDeLaarschot spent 15 years in commercial radio. He is one of two staff members at The Lakeland Times with 10 or more years of experience in radio.
This WNA award is the latest for VanDeLaarschot. He won awards from the WNA in 2000 and 2002 for feature writing and business reporting. In 2010 and 2011, he won first place for open records/freedom of information reporting in what had been an open category, meaning he was going up against writers for larger newspapers in cities such as Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay.
The category changed, however, and this year the award VanDeLaarschot received was for newspapers with about the same sized circulation as The Times.
“I feel really good about winning this,” he said. “It helps to have an editor like Ray Rivard, who helps me ... if I have a question about how to do something, he’s a great resource.”
He also cited Times owner Gregg Walker as being very supportive.
“When you have those kind of people behind you, it helps you get the job done,” VanDeLaarschot said.
“A fascinating story that you provided good continuing coverage of,” wrote the judges of VanDeLaarschot’s work on the Evenson story. “This story in particular was full of detail.”
“The controversy centered around the fact that the jailer [Evenson] had expressed concerns about the hiring of the sheriff’s stepson [Rosinski] as a jailer because of something that came up in a background check ... Evenson was eventually moved out of his job because of his questioning of the hiring of this guy,” VanDeLaarschot said.
He said it’s interesting what one can find when you dig into open records.
“That’s what really makes the story, that you can find what they don’t want you to find,” he said.
That’s one of the factors, VanDeLaarschot said, that keeps his job as a reporter interesting.
‘My Lucky Shirt’
Turk writes a column as part of his duties as outdoors writer for The Times. His story, “My Lucky Shirt,” about an old, comfortable, sleeveless shirt that he likes to wear when he goes fishing but otherwise hides from his wife because she apparently would like to see it disappear, won third place in the WNA’s Division D category.
Unlike VanDeLaarschot, Turk is a newcomer to print journalism. He has been writing for The Lakeland Times for about a year.
But his background helped him easily adjust to the world of reporting.
“My background is mostly writing stuff for my family,” he said. “It mostly comes from keeping our hunting log at our hunting camp.”
Turk said he’s been recording that family history since the 1980s and people have enjoyed the stories about family experiences at the Muutka Lodge, northeast of Rhinelander.
“I’ve been a lifelong lover of the outdoors, hunting and fishing in particular,” Turk said. “That’s the way I was brought up.”
This is Turk’s first award of this nature and he said he was surprised.
“I just started doing this last spring and submitted three stories when I was informed about the competition,” he said.
Turk’s award winner, “My Lucky Shirt,” was something he thought might make a good story.
“The story is about an especially, ragged, sleeveless, faded purple shirt that I wear fishing in warm weather,” he said. “The story just came up because my wife was telling me how terrible it was one day and I was getting ready to leave the house in it one day,” he said.
“She said it was kind of an embarrassment to be seen in public in it. I was just heading out to go fishing with my brother that afternoon.”
Turk said he thought she had a point about the shirt but he realized it was something he could weave into the column about going fishing with his brother.
“I just thought it was a funny point to focus on and build a story around and when she started complaining about it I told myself that could definitely be part of the story,” he said.
Of his award winning “My Lucky Shirt,” WNA’s judging staff wrote, it was “a great snapshot of that safety blanket known as superstition. Let’s just hope she never finds that shirt.”
Turk said he’s enjoyed getting the feedback from readers since he’s been writing his columns for The Times.
“Things like the purple shirt story and other stuff that seems to be amusing to a few people,” he said. “I’m pleased about that.”
Brian Jopek may be reached at email@example.com.