Had the most wonderful time chez Dave Callender and his lovely bride, Eloi, Saturday night, on the beautiful far-southwest side of Madison. The beer was kept cold on the deck overlooking the southlands on an abnormally cool night and it poured sweet and clear. It was a very good night.
Dave and Eloi hosted Capital Times staffers past, present, and future. Count Dave C. as an alum of The Capital Times we used to know. The daily (Monday-Saturday) print edition is no more.
La plus a change ... plus c'est la même chose.
Like others, veteran Capitol reporter Dave C. was required to apply for his old job. He did, was offered it, then turned it down. High fives. Now Dave C. will join the Wisconsin Counties Association as a lobbyist. Welcome to the dark side.
But not until June, after using their buyout for a trip that will take them from Vienna to Istanbul.
Shook hands with Dave Zweifel -- truly one of the nicest men ever created. He does not deserve the penance now being imposed: the loss of the daily print newspaper that he grew up with. Change is difficult, but change is inevitable -- something The Capital Times has had trouble coming to grips with. (News flash: it's not 1932 anymore. Labor v. management truly is a zero sum game. The Battle of River Rouge is over.)
I grew up with the paper. Dad would lie on the couch and read the comics to us as little kids. I remember the Green Sheet: "Priscilla's Pop" and "Our Boarding House" with Major Hoople.
Dad would pound the table over something he had read in the CT. That is when I learned that newspapers were something important. Even on Sundays, we came home from Mass, turned on then CT-owned WIBA radio, listened first to Drew Pearson's Washington Merry Go Round, then William T. Evjue.
Hello, [cough, clear throat, produce phlegm] Wisconsin!
Biased and loving it!
I told Dave Z. I was now writing a blog that combines factual reportage with unvarnished opinion. "Now where do you suppose I learned that?" I inquire. Dave Z. ventured that it might have been at the Waukesha Freeman. Close, but no cigar. Go for more cold beer.
Dave is said to be still trying to get over Doug Moe's defection to the Wisconsin State Journal. I did not see them hug and make up Saturday night. I don't blame Doug one bit. He also had to apply for his own job. The scuttlebutt at the party was that management took the advice of lawyers to do it that way. Everyone but management. Talk about class warfare! I agree totally with the party-goer who said a lawyer's job is to get you out of trouble, not to keep you from getting into trouble.
That's the philosophy I used as a supervisor on the Dane County Board: Corporation counsel, you work for us. We don't work for you.
Names make news
Former columnist Rob Zaleski talked about three options he was considering for his retirement years. He took the generous full salary buyout -- with his tenure, it amounts to an entire year. I'll dispense with the first two and go to the Hail Mary: Panama excites him. Panama! Booming expatriate community, lush natural flora and fauna to rival Costa Rica. Mountains, beaches, cheap cost of living. If Rob doesn't do it, Blaska will. Throw long, Rob. Throw long!
Go for more cold beer.
Had a good talk with former sports editor Joe Hart, one of the hardest-working journalists ever. The James Brown of Madison. He was born and raised in DeKalb, Ill., and found himself there at the latest college mass murder binge. The DeKalb Daily Chronicle was my first professional posting. He's also taken the buyout. Told Joe I mean to approach corporate man Paul Fanlund for my buyout. Just because I left early ... I mean, they can pro rate it, can't they? If not, I'm coming back. Fair warning!
A number of staffers told me of the incredible tension at the newspaper, as first it appeared staffer would vie with staffer for the remaining jobs. Management was surprised that 18 of the 24 cuts came through voluntary buyout. Then followed the numb feeling of working in what amounted to a hospice environment, your days numbered. The final countdown.
More good friends
Saw many other good friends: Rich Rygh, the head photo guy. Warren Gaskill and his ever-intriguing lady, Sharon, who has not aged one whit. Rob Schultz, who is an even better raconteur than reporter, which is to say, damn fine.
Took a call from Kaye Schultz and Gardner Selby from Austin, Texas. Gardner walked former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw around the University of Texas campus in the run-up to the Dem Texas primary. Turns out they walked in a circle. Let's see that graphic!
Also saw the lovely Mary Bergin, from my alma mater UW-Oshkosh, and dear Rosemary Kendrick, now three years retired. Health reporter Mike Lundey looks better than ever.
Back to Dave Callender. Dave showed me a funny testimonial from the governor's office. My first evidence that the Doyle regime has a sense of humor. Tommy G. Thompson had telephoned his good wishes. Seven years after leaving office! I truly am honored that I had a chance to work for and with him.
I am just as honored that Dave C. calls me "his mentor."
Something's happening here
What it is, is not exactly clear. Corn is a commodity. You can grow it in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Tennessee, even in the Ukraine. But make whiskey out of it, pour it into a fancy bottle with an artful label, and you have added value.
At the dawn of moving pictures, the actors were not identified. But producers soon learned that movie goers wanted to see the girl with the dimple. So the actors got billing. That is where The Capital Times is at -- or should be. Names not only make news, name talent draws readers.
The CT lost some franchise players (that's three analogies in a row -- more than in your run-of-the-mill blog). Doug Moe to the State Journal, Dave Callender to the Counties Association, Rob Zaleski to retirement. And others.
Except for John Nichols and Mike Lucas, maybe Mike Miller, they're pretty much left with a commodity: News. But are they really going to beat the State Journal online to the barn fire? And who will care if they do? Where is the value added?
I talked to one holdover and suggested buying on a per article basis -- not salary -- commentary on the cheap from such as former CT great Whitney Gould, recently retired from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. No one has a more commanding presence on urban development and architectural statement. Knows Madison as well as she knows Milwaukee.
This holdover reported that she has asked about similar scenarios and was told, "there is no money."
What more do you need to know about the long-term prospects?
More about the end
Stu Levitan did a nice job summarizing the history of this unique and often strange publication.
The Capital Times also did a laudable job summarizing the dearly departed, which only calls into question their ultimate survival. I am predicting that The Capital Times will remain a logo, perhaps an endowed chair. But not a fully functioning news entity. La plus ca change ...
In any event, let's give a fond farewell to talented colleagues.
It pours, sweet and clear, it was a very good beer.