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Tea’s Weird Week: I Won Two Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Wisconsin Journalism Awards

The Milwaukee Press Club Gridiron Awards were last night at the historic, beautiful (and famously haunted) Pfister Hotel. Yours Truly was there. I had a seat at the big kid’s table with the Milwaukee Magazine staff (I should point out that while I’m a frequent contributor, I’m a freelancer, not staff). That was nice, I got to meet some people in person that I’ve only worked with via email. I sat next to Rich Rovito, a hard working writer who absolutely deserves the five awards he took home.

The ballroom was filled with a who’s who of media– the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel thankfully has enough writers left to fill a table, WUWM was there (Lake Effect host Joy Powers won an award–congrats!–and is always surprised at how tall I am). Concealed Carry Magazine was there, too. I assume they were all packing in case someone tried to run off with their awards.

The awards got over 900 submissions (across all categories), according to MPC. They were judged by other press clubs and organizations around the country. Being judged by my peers is more meaningful to me than some run-of-the-mill online vote popularity contest.

I want to give a heartfelt thanks to all of the Milwaukee Magazine staff– Alli, Archer, Brianna, and especially Carole Nicksin and Chris Drosner for giving me the opportunity to excel. I appreciate their faith in me. Also a big congrats to Matt Ludtke, who won Gold for his fantastic photography on a story I wrote, “The Last Fisherman of Washington Island.”

I’m going to tell you a bit about my two Excellence in Wisconsin Journalism award winners, both in the “soft news” category. Soft news refers to pieces on entertainment and lifestyle as opposed to “hard news” on politics, crime, business (my first MPC award was in the short hard news category, 2021).

The Last Frame (GOLD- Best Short Soft Story)

This story already won the best award possible– the approval of former Falcon Bowl owner Lynn Opinski. I’m told she read the article out loud at the bar and enjoyed it. I think a sure bet when looking for a soft news story is to look for a place or event or institution that has a lot of love from a community and try to explore why that is.

In this case I had a good head start– I’ve hung out at Falcon Bowl on and off since my early 20s, so I know firsthand that it is a favorite gathering place for the good people of Riverwest and beyond. I wrote this while the future of the business was unknown, the Riverwest Investment Cooperative (which was another unique aspect to this story) was still in negotiations with new business operators.

Here’s what I think made this article a winner.

Photo by Jarvis Lawson for Milwaukee Magazine

1. A strong opening. I can’t tell you what a rush it is when someone gives you a good quote and you can visualize the quote marks hanging around it. I thought Vince Bushell would be a good interview for this article and his story in the opening really paved the path for the rest:

One evening, Vince Bushell was strolling down Clarke Street when the night erupted into sound. The bells of St. Casimir Church were tolling the evening hour; bowling balls were crashing into pins in the basement of Falcon Bowl; somewhere in between, a punk band was screeching out a rehearsal in an attic.  

Bushell, sometimes referred to as the “Mayor of Riverwest” for the number of community projects he’s helped foster, had an epiphany: He was hearing the “collective soul of Riverwest floating up and down the street between St. Casimir’s steeple and the lanes of Falcon Bowl.” 

2. Lots of color. Magazine pieces need a lot of “color,” (a word for description) and I kept that in mind. What does the place sound like? “The clatter of balls striking pins punctuates her sentences as she talks from behind the counter.” What does it look like, feel like? “Orange and tan plastic seats, beer holders on the scoring tables, racks filled with bowling balls in purple, blue, mottled and standard black – it all feels as comfy as your uncle’s rec room.”

3. A strong ending. I knew it would be key for me to witness the last day of league bowling for the season before the transition to new business owners. I hung out and then captured this end of an era:

Then, at 10:39 p.m., the last ball rolls down lane 4, delivered by a bowler named Ricky. After hitting two strikes, he ends the night with two pins left standing. The crowd cheers and heads upstairs for another round at the bar. The lane lights are shut off. And that’s it … for now. 

An update: I’m glad to say that the new Falcon Bowl owners are doing a fantastic job giving the building some needed updates while still retaining the wonderful soul of the place so we can all continue to enjoy visiting, hopefully for many more years.

Wanna Buy a Famous Tugboat? (SILVER-Best Soft Feature- Online)

Where to start with Mark Gubin? I’ve described him as a “cosmic prankster” for his famous roof, which reads WELCOME TO CLEVELAND (it’s on the flight path to Mitchell International here in Milwaukee). My editor Chris passed on an email from Mark (who often ignores media requests), explaining he was looking for press because he wanted to sell his beloved historic tugboat, the Solomon Juneau. The first thing I do when figuring out a story is to Google the person or place to see what’s already out there, so when I saw Mark was the guy with the roof, I was instantly very interested in the story.

Mark made this easy as he’s the ultimate, boss level Milwaukee character. It would be pretty hard to write a dull piece about him.

There were some big struggles with this story internally, but I’m not going to get into that. I’m just happy that this story happened and received this recognition. Most of all, I’m glad I made a new friend– me and Mark get lunch together almost every Thursday. I’m working with two talented local filmmakers, Alicia Krupsky and Stephen Vincent Anderson (also working with me on I’m Your Host) to create a short documentary about Mark. We’ve done most of the interviewing for that already. The working title, of course…Welcome to Cleveland.

Photo by K. Synold for Milwaukee Magazine.

Freelancing is tough work. Getting recognitions like this helps you to carry on. I’m grateful to everyone who supports me.

If you’d like to support me and a bunch of other writers, artists, and musicians, I ask you to please consider supporting QWERTYFEST MKE by making a donation, buying tickets, and helping spread the word: