David Blaska formerly worked for the competitor of what now is Madison’s only daily newspaper:
We love opinion! The more sharper-edged the better! Sand for our oyster! Whets our blade. We subscribe to Buckley’s National Review AND The Nation (John Nichols’ day job) for their varied opinions. We read Ross Douthat AND Maureen Dowd in the New York Times. Look in on Tucker Carlson at Fox AND Joy Reid at MSNBC until (like Popeye the Sailor Man) we can’t stands it no more (usually about 10 minutes in)!
But local print opinion appears as endangered as someone with dirt on Hillary Clinton. Went looking for the editorial page at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before reality slapped us upside the head with a wet, rolled-up newspaper They don’t have one! The once-great Journal Sentinel — itself a merged newspaper — began cutting back five years ago when it became one of 250 titles in the Gannett archipelago, we learned only today.
The great (and sorely missed) National Lampoon once issued a tabloid-sized news sheet it called the “Dacron Republican-Democrat.” “A cult classic of puerile genius,” it parodied the mergers of so many city dailies and the resultant attenuation of their editorial voices. A far cry from the early days of the Republic when Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson squared off in their own partisan sheets.
A big reason, we suspect, is that cash-strapped local news outlets fear alienating fickle readers in today’s uncompromising War of the Worlds political environment. Readers and viewers are choosing their own news silos, opinions from like-minded echo chambers. …
As a reporter and low-level editor, Blaska did his part to drive down the circulation of The Capital Times, one of the last remaining afternoon dailies until it went weekly and virtual 15 years ago on 04-26-08. We staffers rued the day when founder William T. Evjue relinquished the Sunday edition and, during merger negotiations in 1948, demanded that the Wisconsin State Journal take the morning slot. Both had been afternoon papers, with the CT leading the circulation war. Both competing newspapers were peppered with display ads for something called “television.”
The Capital Times still serves as the bullhorn of the progressive wing of the Democrat(ic) party. (Never a discouraging word about our Woke Madison school board. Everything is just hunky dory!) Editors Evjue, then Miles McMillin, demanded their opinionated and partisan columns start on page one. The WI State Journal was once reliably Republican. Even supported Joe McCarthy’s crusade against Communism. No more.
Blaska’s Bottom Line — Today, the last daily in the Emerald City of the Woke endorses abortion champion Janet Protasiewicz for supreme court, soft-on-crime Mandela Barnes for U.S. senator, and critical race theorists for school board. (And they say Fox News caters to its audience!) Any-who, that’s my opinion. If you do not agree, write yer own damned blogge, you pinko Commie!
The State Journal’s response might be that (1) it’s reflecting its readership, which is not how editorial pages are supposed to work, or (2) it runs nationally syndicated conservative columnists and letters to the editor from conservatives. But rare is the occasion when a national columnist cares about Madison or even Wisconsin politics, which gets to Blaska’s point.
This is a job that I would have killed to have once upon a time. (As for now, well, why wouldn’t I listen to an offer, especially if it was part-time?) One thing Blaska doesn’t point out is that independent of the no-intellectual-diversity opinion policy way too many newspaper opinion pages are toadies for the powers that be, and that certainly is the case with the State Journal. The State Journal has been too busy cheerleading for Madison to notice the crime rate affecting more people, to care about the negative effects of spiraling home prices (as in why would anyone move to the city when you pay far too much), or to suggest major reform is needed for what used to be some of the best schools in the state (when I was a student) but are now sinking toward Milwaukee quality. An op-ed columnist worth his or her paycheck would write authority-defying things, but not at the State Journal, and truth be told not at many newspapers.
This, by the way, does not require lockstep agreement with the GOP. A conservative Wisconsin columnist should, for instance, ask how conservative voters keep picking such losing candidates as Tim Michels and Dan Kelly, how Ron Johnson won when Michels did not, whether alleged RINOs (for instance Robin Vos) really are, how urban voters disenfranchise rural voters, the real goal of redistricting reform (subtracting the letter R), and whether conservatives should engage in the culture wars or stay in their own echo chambers (for instance, eschewing other news outlets for Fox News). Those three topics (which are probably multiple columns) took me as much time to think up as they took me to type.
A conservative columnist who correctly used facts, logic and reason instead of feelings would generate a lot of attention, and in today’s world a lot of negative attention, with canceled subscriptions, boycotts and threats thereof, and other harrumphs of outrage. (The solution to subscription cancellation is simple: Refuse — you paid for it, you get it until your subscription expires, and what you do with it is up to you.)
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