Isthmus won three first-place awards in the annual contest sponsored by the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, joining such prestigious papers as Willamette Week (Portland, Oregon) and Austin Chronicle (Austin, Texas) in earning multiple awards. More than 560 entries were submitted from publications across the United States and Canada; 95 finalists were named. Isthmus also earned an honorable mention for best column.

The awards were announced during the organization’s annual convention July 22 at a ceremony at the Medill School of Journalism in downtown Chicago.

The contest, says AAN, promotes excellence by “recognizing work that is well-written, incisively reported and effectively challenges established orthodoxies.” The judges included faculty from such schools as California State University, Columbia College Chicago and Penn State University, as well as active and retired members of the media community not affiliated with the Association of Alternative Newsmedia.

The first-place winners are: 

Ron Seely, feature: “Howl: Will Wisconsin ever make peace with wolves? Or will vengeance prevail?”

Ron Seely spent decades covering science and the environment for the Wisconsin State Journal. He drew on that knowledge for this piece that is both personal and deeply researched, exploring Wisconsin’s relationship with wolves and the political forces that threaten not just the wolves, but the state’s tradition of responsible hunting and values of conservation. 

Judge’s Comment: “For beautifully blending reporting and writing to create an essay that is lyrical and immersive while also offering thoughtful, rather than reactive, perspective and clear statement of what’s at stake for the wolves and the culture of Wisconsin.”

Gwendolyn Rice for Arts criticism: “A transformative ‘Shrew’” 

In her critique Gwendolyn Rice writes about how American Players Theatre director Shana Cooper reimagines Shakespeare’s most misogynistic tale without significantly changing the text. Gwendolyn also earned silver for this review in the Milwaukee Press Club awards.

Judge’s comment: “Evocative writing that asks deep questions about the work and its place in current culture. The author does more than just summarizing the plot; she puts it in context and asks the reader probing questions. I would trust this critic to always lead me to interesting new places.”

Claire “Snaggle Tooth” Warhus for illustration: “Howl”

Illustrator Claire “Snaggle Tooth” Warhus, co-owner of a Madison tattoo parlor, worked off the November Isthmus cover story (“Howl”) that depicts the increasingly political divide over the management of Wisconsin’s wolves — one side sees wolves as a natural wonder and seeks co-existence; the other abhors wolves and seeks eradication. Warhus captures that dichotomy with her illustration.

Judge’s Comment: “The actual technical quality of this illustration is very impressive. The line work, the color shading, the anatomical depictions of the wolf’s head — high-quality technical skill. The concept of showing a mirrored image with one side being the preservationist side and one the eradication side is very clear, and it was very clever to have the trunks of the trees become the motion lines of the bullets. Most importantly, for me, is that an illustration in this context provides additional meaning to the story. Does it bring forward in a visual way, something abstract or emotional that allows the viewer to be a more engaged reader? This accomplishes this goal in the way it creates a clear emotional narrative for the story. The reader will already have been charged with reacting to one side of the mirror positively and one negatively. Bravo!”

And Isthmus editor Judith Davidoff earned an honorable mention for her monthly column, “From the editor,” in which she aims to increase the public’s understanding of journalism by providing a behind-the-scenes look at Isthmus as well as exploring broad themes related to media and its struggles. 

Judge’s comment: “More than ever before, dedicating space, time and energy to educating readership as to the role of journalism in their lives is invaluable. This column tackles a different angle of media literacy and brings it to readers through a decidedly local lens.”

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