Gazette reporters' favorite stories of 2014

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Gazette staff
December 30, 2014

Reporters interview hundreds of people and write dozens of stories in a year's time.

Some are drudgery; others are a delight.

Some become favorites that they'll never forget.

Here are some articles Gazette reporters chose as favorites from 2014:

• • •

Reporter: Marcia Nelesen

Headline: Mushrooms are 'amazing,' 'mysterious,' says grower

Date published: May 26

Synopsis: I didn't have a clue what to expect when doing a story on a mushroom operation in a rural Orfordville home.

It turns out it was nothing I could have imagined.

Colonies of unusual mushrooms with exotic names such as lions mane thrived in basement rooms, cultivated and grown in sterile conditions using a high-tech process. Proprietors A.J. Grottke and Cassie Prigge produce up to 200 pounds a week and sell the mushrooms to area restaurants and at farmers markets.

Touring Lotus Growing Technologies was fascinating and the end results delectable. The couple are a philosophical sort who view their operation as contributing to a sustainable Earth. After seeing the fungi-growing blocks, the fruiting bodies and hearing words such as “spawn” and “mycelium,” I had to agree with Grottke: Mushrooms are amazing and mysterious.

• • •

Reporter: Catherine W. Idzerda

Headline: Harvest, rinse, repeat: Fall means long hours for local crop farmers

Date published: Oct. 26

Synopsis: The story detailed the day in the life of a crop farmer during one of the busiest times of the year.

As a writer, I like a story with a lot of sound imagery: the hail-like patter of corn hitting the grates at the grain elevator, the susurration—they wouldn't let me use that word in the story—of the corn going through the combine heads, the hum and grumble of the combine/tractor engines and the guys chattering back and forth on the radio.

As a reporter, I like a story about ordinary people who are quietly extraordinary. The Rebouts fit the bill. They are good farmers—smart, up-to-date, ready to advocate for their industry and, of course, hard working.

• • •

Reporter: Frank Schultz

Headline: Janesville police officer tells of saving girl on a ledge

Date published: April 26

Synopsis: A Janesville police officer's feat of saving a girl who might have fallen to her death April 8 was caught on police video.

The story came in what might be called the Year of the Police Video.

Video figured in lots of stories nationally and locally this year, and coincidentally, this was the year in which I switched from being The Gazette's schools reporter to the police and courts beat.

This particular video was from the body camera of Janesville police officer Daniel Schoonover, who climbed the side of a building and grabbed the distraught girl, who was on the edge of the roof atop a Main Street building.

“Failure is not an option in that situation. We train to win in our profession,” Schoonover told me.

Also fun for me as a writer, I got to use the phrase “Spider-Man-like feat.”

• • •

Reporter: Nick Crow

Headline: Janesville schools fatherhood program targets teen dad graduation

Date published: May 18

Synopsis: The Janesville School District started a program targeting teen fathers encouraging them to stay in school. I like the story because I didn't know what to expect going into it. Speaking with teen father Antorn Roby really made me think about how tough it is for some kids.

It's easy to tout awards and high achievement, but it's something different to talk about the kids struggling to make it. I think it was important to publicize the efforts being made to help kids in Antorn's situation. Not everyone has a support system in place to make school easy for them. I'm glad I got to tell his story.

• • •

Reporter: Anna Marie Lux

Headline: Artificial legs, real heart: Janesville man learning to walk again for benefit event

Date published: Aug. 3

Synopsis: Tom McCool of Janesville learned how to walk again with artificial legs after both legs were amputated in February.

Tom was not expected to live in 2012 because of a serious heart condition. Then doctors fitted him with a heart pump while he waited for a transplant. He faced serious health challenges daily, but he often thinks of others instead of himself.

In the words of his pastor: “Tom takes inspiration to a whole new level. If you were to look up the definition of courage in the dictionary, Tom's picture would be next to it.”

• • •

Reporter: Jim Leute

Headline: Is Janesville 'Chainsville?' City licenses show more independent than chain restaurants

Date published: June 14

Synopsis: About 54 percent of the city's traditional restaurants are considered independent operations, while the remaining 46 percent are chain or franchise restaurants.

What is a restaurant, and is it an independent or chain? Answering those seemingly simple questions took hours of back and forth among staffers, and it took even more time to plot the city's 131 restaurants on a map.

The end result was an interesting look at the city's restaurant landscape, which never fails to trigger an impassioned debate that generally emanates from one of two camps:

— “It sure would be nice to have a Red Lobster, Chipotle Mexican Grill or (fill in the franchise here).”

— “Why can't this community support the local, independent restaurants?”

• • •

Reporter: Gina Duwe

Headline: Moments with Addison: Reporter shares story of stillbirth experience

Date published: June 29

Synopsis: I shared the experience and heartbreak of the loss of our first daughter, Addison, who was stillborn in 2012, and the emotions of our second pregnancy, along with information about pregnancy loss.

How could this not be my favorite story? My husband, Mike, and I have been open about our loss from the start, but it was still the story hardest—emotionally—to write. The heartwarming responses to our detailed account from the triage room to healing made it all worthwhile.

I had hoped the story would educate people on a topic seldom discussed, and Mike and I heard from people near and far about how it touched them. One woman said it helped her understand her mother's stillborn loss before she was born. It was rewarding to hear from other grateful families who grieved a similar loss. They thanked me for, in a way, sharing their story, too.

It helps us to know our little angel's short life touched many.

• • •

Reporter: Andrea Behling

Headline: Bill Watson: The man with the plans

Date published: Nov. 23

Synopsis: Bill Watson has big ideas for an industrial park near Milton, but his methods and his history have people wondering who he is and how he does business.

I started working on this piece my first week on the job. At the time, it sounded like something out of my league. After months of work and many send-backs from my editors, it became the biggest story I've ever tackled and one I hope was meaningful to our readers.

I asked tough questions. I sifted through piles of information. I made sure questions were answered while also giving structure to a large, complicated story. This story forced me out of my comfort zone as a young journalist, and I'm better at my job because of it.

• • •

Reporter: Shelly Birkelo

Headline: Janesville filmmaker relishes work that goes into 3-minute film

Date published: Nov. 26

Synopsis: Kristin Peterson, 25, Janesville, independently wrote, produced and directed her own short film “DOG*WALK” during the first weekend in November at her parents' Janesville home, where she grew up. The dark comedy was shot over 17 hours. The action-packed, three-minute film melds genres from comic books to horror to music video.

During a time when it seems as if there is more negative than positive news, this was an upbeat story about a local young woman already having success with an even brighter future.

 She specialized in documentary filmmaking at UW-Milwaukee, is working for the Beloit International Film Festival and works as a freelance location scout and manager for commercials. Her film will be submitted to regional and international film festivals for consideration. There's even a good chance locals will see it featured in the Beloit International Film Festival.

This was an interesting, fun and exciting story to be part of. Who knows, maybe someday we'll see her on TV walking across the stage at the Academy Awards and accepting her Oscar.

Then I can say I worked with someone famous and shared her story before Hollywood.

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