The top stories of The Wausonian in 2023
A look back at your favorite stories of the year
This time of year I try to slow down a little. I work nearly every single day of the year, Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, because I am building something and I want it to grow. But I take one time of the year - the week of Christmas — to take my foot off the pedal a little. It helps me recharge for the rest of the year.
I got into this habit when I first started back at City Pages in 2014. City Pages traditionally took off the week of Christmas for a couple of reasons: It allowed our publisher to catch up on accounting and other business stuff; there isn’t too much going on news-wise that week in Wausau; and it put greater emphasis on our double Christmas issue, since people running ads get two weeks for their dollars.
The new company that owns City Pages didn’t allow that. So the one week I could I could take off a full week was gone. Since I have no backup there, the most time I can take off is a long weekend.
That said, I’ve noticed a number of substack publications do the same Christmas week. Which means at a time when people have the most time to read, publishers aren’t publishing.
So while the Weekly Wausonian itself will be on hiatus over the Christmas week, we do have this post with a look at our most popular stories of the year (and some updates where I have them), and probably another I’d done some reporting on but never finished about Milwaukee’s radical zoning plan and how some of those ideas have already been implemented here. (To be clear, I use the term “radical” to denote that it’s a pretty big departure from standard zoning orthodoxies.)
Top stories of year
Wausau’s anti-Semitic mayoral candidate everyone is talking about: Our top story of the year was also our top paid post. I learned about Christopher Wood on social media, saw everyone talking about this guy blaming the Jews for everything on the 400 Block, with business owners organizing the purchase of air horns as a counter measure. Yet no one was writing about him. Even other journalists were messaging me about him but I was the first to put pen to paper (er, bites to bandwidth?). The fact that he was a nuisance to people trying to enjoy a quiet concert on the square was one thing, but he claimed to be planning to run for mayor. And as we found out, he did just that. As of the last update he hadn’t turned in the necessary signatures. Will he? We’ll know for sure in early January.
Rosenberg’s campaign funded an un-attributed ad: This was a very close second place. I’m sure it gained a lot of traction among conservatives. But that has nothing to do with my ethos, which is to be a watchdog of all politicians, regardless of political affiliation. And this one came from a tip from a reader: A page in the coloring book handed out at Wausau Events A) linked to a website that depicted drug use, and B) may have been a campaign finance violation since it instructed people to vote and contained Rosenberg’s name on it. It seemed a little crazy but sure enough, both turned out to be true. Rosenberg apologized on both counts and said it should have contained attribution, since her campaign funded it. Interestingly, my story made Meg Ellefson’s show and she somehow painted me as sympathetic to the mayor. Weird. But I guess, thanks for the shoutout anyway? 1
Top paid post
Since the anti-Semitic mayoral candidate post was also the top paid post, our runner up is well-worth highlighting: Emails reveal leaders pushed for extended Granite Peak ski area. And I know why. The DNR held years worth of public meetings, and carefully designed each area of the Rib Mountain State Park master plan based on that feedback, balancing the interests of all users. And then a small group, led by the leadership of the Chamber, went behind the public’s back and pushed for more expansion behind the scenes. It was pushed through by local dentist Fred Prehn who stayed on the board well past his term expiring. He stepped down shortly after the vote. As an update, I never heard peep from any of the Natural Resources Board members I reached out to about this. That also leads to another story I need to start digging into: It’s been a year and I have yet to hear a peep about anything in the plan being worked on. When I asked back when the plan was passed what the process would be, I kind of got shrugs. Something about it being up to individual user groups to start the changes. But how?
Most under-appreciated story of the year
Weston approved Amazon’s distribution center without knowing it was Amazon: I still think this story is insane. In my nearly 20 years as a journalist I’ve never seen a government approve a deal with a company, including tax incentives, without actually knowing what that company was. Not only did the public not know, but Weston leaders themselves didn’t know. I actually had some people try to justify this to me, but they didn’t have much answers when I pointed out Wisconsin’s open meetings law and the state’s compliance guide. The public has a right to know who the village is doing business with. Period. It’s the law. Sadly not one other journalist in the area picked up the story.
Bridge community has no staff doctors or dentists…: Speaking of stories no one else bothered to follow up on. I learned through a reader tip that Bridge Community, which provides medical and dental care to low-income residents, had no staff doctor and no full-time staff dentists. It had a few people coming in part time. Allegations from staff were that the leadership was so toxic no one wanted to stay. And they alleged its director cared more about mental health than medical or dental care. Based on announcements around mental health partnerships that emerged afterward, that seemed to be the case. While mental health care is important, there are other options in the county - but none for low-income dental.
It’s interesting to me that I was the only journalist to write about many of the above stories. None of them received widespread attention and I’m not sure anyone wrote about any of the above besides me. I know for several I am the only one at all who wrote about them. That shows why The Wausonian is necessary. And I appreciate each and every one of you who shared The Wausonian, subscribed, and helped me keep this thing going.
Also, hilariously, she twice refers to me as “this B.C. Kowalski” as if I’ve come out of nowhere and haven’t been a well-known writer in the community for nearly a decade now (longer if you count the time before I left for Stevens Point). Also, she’s MET ME. I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose, but I still am. Another funny bit - she pretends she can’t quite remember the name of The Wausonian, but later she’s clearly reading from the post. You can’t make this up.