Valley Sentinel wins Best in Division E at Wisconsin Newspaper Association awards banquet

Members of Valley Sentinel pictured with the publication’s 22 awards, including Best in Division E, after the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s awards banquet in Madison March 24. Pictured from left: Beverly Pestel, columnist; Anna Stocks-Hess, former graphic designer; Nicole Aimone, co-owner, publisher, editor-in-chief; Taylor Scott, co-owner, publisher, managing editor; Julianna Williams, graphic designer; Gary Ernest Grass, esq., legal editor. Photo by Kathleen Farrow.

The Wisconsin Newspaper Association recently recognized the state’s newspapers for their exceptional work during its 2022 Better Newspaper Contest Awards Banquet. The event took place on March 24, at The Madison Concourse Hotel in downtown Madison. Among the winners, Valley Sentinel was awarded as the Best in Division E.

The contest received a total of 2,230 entries from 106 newspapers, with eligible entries published between September 1, 2021, and August 31, 2022. A panel of judges from the Arkansas Press Association evaluated the entries and selected the winners.

Annually, newspapers from across the state can submit entries in the awards for editorial and advertising. Publications are divided into most categories based on circulation size and daily versus weekly publications.

The best in division winners were: Division E (non-daily circulation of 2,249 or less): Valley Sentinel, Spring Green; Division D (non-daily circulation of 2,250 – 4,499): Superior Telegram; Division C (non-daily circulation of at least 4,500): The Lakeland Times, Minocqua; Division B (daily circulation of less than 9,999): Herald Times Reporter, Manitowoc; Division A (daily circulation of at least 10,000): The Gazette, Janesville.

Valley Sentinel is in good company, with a majority of the publications in the Wisconsin Newspaper Association falling under Division E, with over 100 of the nearly 200 publications in the Wisconsin Newspaper Association belonging to that division. 

Out of the other Sauk, Iowa and Richland county papers, the Baraboo News Republic (Division B) took home first place for Feature Story (Profile) and honorable mention for General News Story. Other area Wisconsin Newspaper Association member papers, the Home News (Division E), the Dodgeville Chronicle (Division D), the Richland Observer (Division E), The Democrat Tribune (Division E), and the Reedsburg Independent (Division E), were not represented at the awards.

In addition to winning Best in Division, Valley Sentinel’s staff was recognized with 22 awards out of 50 entries. Co-Owner, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Nicole Aimone, Co-Owner, Publisher and Managing Editor Taylor Scott, Legal Editor Gary Ernest Grass, esq., Graphic Designer Julianna Williams, Columnist Barb Garvoille, Columnist Beverly Pestel, former Graphic Designers Anna Stocks-Hess and Whitney Kurdziel, and contributor Jolean Louis were among those honored.

“The Wisconsin Newspaper Association is very proud of the awards won by the Valley Sentinel staff in our recent Better Newspaper Contest. In this era where many newspapers are facing difficult challenges, it is reassuring to see quality community journalism serving the needs of the people, at a very high level. What Nicole Aimone and Taylor Scott have accomplished is particularly outstanding given that the Valley Sentinel has been in existence for less than three years. To be awarded the best newspaper in Wisconsin in its circulation category is truly an outstanding achievement.”

Beth Bennett, Executive Director, Wisconsin Newspaper Association

Valley Sentinel’s awards include first place in the Open Records/Freedom of Information Award, All-Around Newspaper Photography, Artistic Photo, Best Large Ad, and Best Small Ad categories. The publication also received second place in the Community Engagement Award, General News Story, Artistic Photo, Bill Payne Award (Best Ad Overall), Best Large Ad, and Best Small Ad categories. Third place honors were awarded to Valley Sentinel in Best Front Page, Best Special Section (Editorial), Reporting on Local Government, Local Column, Feature Photo, Artistic Photo, and Best Niche Product. Honorable mentions for Valley Sentinel were given for Best Headlines, Local Column, Overall Page Design and Best Newspaper Promotion.

“A sincere thank you to our contributors, our readers and our community for believing in our mission of doing something different and supporting us on the journey,” said Aimone. “We couldn’t have done it without your support.”

Valley Sentinel’s first place in the Open Records/Freedom of Information category went to its editors Aimone, Scott and Grass for their coverage of the rush to fill the Village of Arena’s public works superintendent position that resulted in the filing of open meetings complaints. The judges said, “This is an example of following up words with actions, which is sometimes an integral piece in the pursuit of transparency. Explaining the law and its benefits bring real value.” It’s important to note that this was a category where the weekly divisions were combined and Valley Sentinel was not only competing with other Division E papers, but also larger Division D and C papers.

Noting Valley Sentinel’s sweep of the Artistic Photo category, Aimone emphasized the importance of Valley Sentinel’s effective use of photos.  

“A good news photo follows the basic rule of thirds, wanting the subject in the top or bottom of any third of the shot. It has action, you see people celebrating, protesting, embracing, working in the moment. It’s not staged but a true snapshot of exactly what’s going on at the newsworthy event it’s reporting,” said Aimone. “A strong artistic local news photo will be that once-in-a-lifetime, breathtaking shot of a place or scene everyone in the area knows, but you were lucky enough to have a camera with you to get that shot”.

Aimone also noted the first and second places in both the Best Large Ad and Best Small Ad, as well as the second place finish in the Bill Payne Award for best overall ad. 

“We pride ourselves not just on our offerings to our readers, but also on our offerings to our area business community. Valley Sentinel is a free publication because we believe not only that everyone should be able to read the news, but also because of the value it offers to our local businesses whose advertisements reach that many more eyes each edition due to our accessibility,” says Aimone. “We’re so honored that the judges recognized the creative energy and passion that our designers have put into designing engaging ads for our local businesses.” 

Other notable awards include second place in the Community Engagement Award to Scott for Valley Sentinel’s Impulse Initiative, which the judges called a “great use of 21st century media to address a long term problem. This is about making the [paper] a thought leader and a change agent. In other words, relevant. Just what [the journalism] industry needs.”

“We’re particularly proud of our second place in community engagement for our soft launch of our Impulse Initiative. It’s an initiative we look to build a team of passionate community members around and hard launch in the near future,” says Scott. “This is a proof of concept for us that this idea resonates with experts that know what a force for good local journalism and community publications can be.” 

“It’s representative of the larger proof of concept that our publication encompasses. I like to tell people we’re at 15% of phase one of three of what we want to accomplish in building community and where we want to take Valley Sentinel and related businesses or foundations,” continues Scott. “If a ragtag group of what we proudly describe as roughly 1.5 people and some amazing community contributors and volunteers can be recognized as the best newspaper our size in the state with a shoestring budget and no corporate infrastructure, imagine how much community building we can do in the future with a little growth.”

Valley Sentinel has been serving the Spring Green area community since October 2020, covering local news and events, meetings, arts & culture and more. This year was Valley Sentinel’s first year eligible for the WNA awards. The publication is committed to growing and providing quality journalism, while navigating and pioneering what the future of community news can look like and all the ways in which our communities can engage with it.

“We’d like to again thank our readers, contributors and our community for their on-going support that made these awards possible,” says Aimone. “These awards belong to the community and our supporters just as much as us, for allowing us to grow, try something different and for fostering our success. We have so much more planned to do, we’ll only succeed with your support.” 

To view the complete list of winners and judges’ comments, access the online version of the Better Newspaper Contest Awards Tab. All of the awards and entries can be viewed here. For more information about Valley Sentinel, visit

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