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Milton newspaper hit hard by illnesses

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
November 29, 2011
— While newspapers nationwide are being stung by plummeting advertising sales and staff cuts, the newsroom at the Milton Courier newspaper is grappling with different problem—staff illness.

In a phone interview Monday, Doug Welch, the managing editor at the Courier, confirmed that he's recovering at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center, Janesville after having a stroke Nov. 24.


Welch said he had the stroke in the morning on Thanksgiving Day while he was at his rural Milton home. He said the stroke left him with little to no use of his left arm and leg, but his speech was clear.


Welch, who has worked for The Courier since 1991, said this week he begins two to six weeks of intensive physical rehab at the hospital.


"They expect me to walk again, but they're not sure if the arm's coming back all the way," Welch said.


Welch is the second person in The Courier's newsroom this fall to be sidelined with a debilitating condition.


Associate Editor Rick Miller took a leave from the paper in September after he had a brain aneurysm and later surgery to remove a brain tumor.


Through editorials printed in The Courier this fall, Miller has shared details of his diagnosis and recovery, including his difficulty speaking and writing since the aneurysm.


In the absence of Miller and now Welch, the core of the paper's newsroom, local resident and journalist James Debilzen is stepping in as acting managing editor at The Courier.


Debilzen, a Milton resident, is managing editor of the DeForest Times-Tribune and the Poynette Press. The papers and The Courier are subsidiaries of newspaper group Hometown News, which owns about a dozen newspapers in southern Wisconsin.


Debilzen was an intern and an editor at The Courier from 2006 to 2007. He said that in the wake of Welch and Miller's illness, the Courier's small staff is shouldering more responsibility, and the paper has enlisted a reporter to cover local news.


"They've adjusted well to what's happening. Everybody's trying to keep their spirits up," said Debilzen, who plans to help with some news coverage.


Welch is focused on regaining use of his leg and hand, but he's also thinking about his duties as a news editor.


"It's tough not being out in the community and not seeing all the people I see every week. I enjoy being in the community so much," Welch said. "Hopefully, I'll be back at it."


Meanwhile, Debilzen said Miller is "progressing well" with his recovery. Welch said he hasn't been in touch with Miller since his stroke, but he's thinking of him.


"What Rick's dealing with is more difficult than what I'm dealing with," Welch said. "I hope he's able to come around for his own sake."



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