Hola amigos. It's been a long time since I been rappin' at ya.
Wait a minute, that is slacker Jim Anchower's line from The Onion. Well, it has been awhile and my bowl is empty. I'm down to seeds and stems again.
Tremendous Huzzahs to Jason Shepard, one of the premier journalists in this, Our Town, for his cover-page, deep rendition in the current Isthmus (on news stands everywhere) of my old alma mater, "Madison's Afternoon Paper." You know it as the Progressive Dane newspaper. It's a must-read because, as Jason notes, it is one of the few afternoon newspapers remaining in this, one of the few two-newspaper towns remaining in this man's Republic.
Read his piece and the following will make more sense to you: I worked at the newspaper from late 1977 to very early 1990. Do the math. That makes me 39 years of age.
Got it right:
- Editor emeritus Dave Zweifel is one of the all-time nice guys.
- The paper has "a very eccentric staff, in many lovable ways and many frustrating ways," as he quotes the current managing editor as saying. I think that was true when I served (actually because I served). I once blockaded the employee entrance with my carbon-burning vehicle when the new computer system -- it was the first computer system -- wiped out my magnum opus of a 13-part series. I sat on the stairs looking out at my handiwork when the late Elliott Maraniss, then the editor, issued a memorandum that even I could understand. "Get that goddamn car out of there," he barked.
- John Nichols has the right idea to do his writing off campus; in his case, at the Ancora coffee shop just off the Square. Nothing is more incestuous than news people infecting each other in a newsroom. Good for him.
- John Nichols is the control, the ward heeler, the Boss Prendergast for Progressive Dane. As Jason Shepard reports, "Madison Ald. Marsha Rummel (PD) (was) shuffling over to talk about city funding for neighborhood police officers. ...John Nichols, Rummel gushed, you are so smart." (Rummel voted against the increase the police chief asked for, she was decidedly in the minority.) So now we know who to blame.
- Executive Editor Paul Fanlund has stirred "a committed but somewhat sleepy staff," especially a certain photographer who is editor Zweifel's pal. It used to be said of this photographer that his version of preparing for a photo shoot was to roll down his car window. His pictures still look like that. And it remains an indifferently edited newspaper. A recent story referenced an accident that occurred "near the town of Burke." If it's not in the Town of Burke, it is in some other town, village or city. That is how the state of Wisconsin is organized.
- The deal that Wild Bill Evjue brokered with Lee Enterprises in 1948 got the State Journal to abandon the afternoon field, in which the two newspapers had competed, to publish in the morning. In consolation, the State Journal was given the Sunday franchise to itself. At that blue-collar time, the afternoon slot was the circulation winner. But television and a white-collar insurance and government economy would change those demographics, and quick.
Yes, The Capital Times probably exists today because of the deal that gave it half-ownership of what is today Capital Newspapers, Inc. Fact is, the afternoon newspaper could quit publication and the company of that name would still make money for its stockholders. But consider this corollary: because of this supposed beneficence, the afternoon paper has been immunized against the market economy -- free to wander so far off any known path that beaten does not begin to describe it. Which leads to this...
- Circulation has free-fallen faster than Tom Petty could have imagined even after I left, down to 15,000 and change. It was 34,000 when I signed on and, being the paranoid sort, began to blame myself for the drop. Yes, blame the afternoon slot. Yes, blame the Internet. (What are you doing here, anyway?) But this is a community where the mantra is to Think Globally, Buy (and eat) Locally. Where are all those Progs?
- Like the tin foil hats on the pictured people!
- Why Dave Zweifel was pushed aside in July 2006 to write a thrice-weekly column so that Lee Enterprises functionary Paul Fanlund could run the newspaper. I have that story and someday will tell it. It's a story of when the commitment to truth loses out to the enslavement of ideology.
Carry on my wayward friends. There's room for all of us on this crazily spinning stage.
My friend Charlie must be served
From a comment by Charlie Esser on December 11 at 2:07 p.m.:
Dave, how about a topic next in your blog about the people missing 1/4 or more of the County Board committee or board meetings? I would like to see your views on that as many of these are Conservatives.Your wish is my command, Charlie. Let's cut to the chase.
Scott McDonell, the liberal chairman of the Dane County Board, serves by grace of the Progressive Dane political party, whose co-founder, John Hendrick, taught young Scott an important lesson in my last term in 2004. That being: you don't do anything without PD. So PD denied young Scott the chairmanship and swung it, once again, to that Zelig chameleon, Kevin Kesterson.
Now McDonell did something that requires brass cojones, and I give him some credit for that. He "outed" the six biggest absentees of the current county board and three of the six happened to be conservatives. (Another is a moderate.) The big meeting misser was Vern Wendt from Black Earth.
What's my reaction, Charlie? My reaction is that you should not miss meetings. But my reaction is also that this is one of those cheap "gotchas." Counting up meetings attended and missed is Cliff's Notes stuff, not research. You don't have to know that the County Board passed little significant legislation in the past term, that it confronted none of the major issues facing the greater metropolitan Madison area -- for that is how Dane County is defined by the U.S. Commerce Department. That it had nothing to say about combating crime except to catch and release.
My reaction is that Vern Wendt should be chairman of the Dane County Board. How many on that benighted body know what it is to harvest a crop and bring it to market? How many preside over a community? (Vern is a former farmer who is now president of the Village of Black Earth.) How many are board members of a locally owned bank?
Charlie, my fear is that we are driving the Vern Wendts off of city councils and county boards with such self-referential nonsense as impeachment votes and immigration sanctuaries.
As the Wisconsin State Journalreported:
Some of us are barking up the wrong tree when we try to push legislation," Wendt said. "Why waste time when the votes aren't there?"
My reaction is that I'll take one meeting of Vern Wendt over 44 meetings of Ashok Kumar, any day.
Breakfast of Champions?
Charlie also sends this along. It's too good not to share: