Into the Void

Across Wisconsin, newspapers have not distinguished themselves since the Great Recession. Most have descended into a cautious, center-right boosterism. They acted on their publishers’ own politics, and on the politics their elderly (but dwindling) readership. Doing so has only exacerbated their problems.

The time to break from this was before – or even during – that recession: a break from a failed ideology, and from a down-market position, to something attractive for another generation of readers.

The best position for an American publication is one of curiosity, inquiry, and a willingness to confront political authority.

A new online venture, the Wisconsin Examiner, began publishing on 7.16.19.  They’re writing from the center-left, and here’s how they describe their publication:

The Wisconsin Examiner is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news site offering a fresh perspective on politics and policy in our state.

As the largest news bureau covering state government, the Examiner will offer investigative reporting and daily coverage dedicated to the public interest.

In Wisconsin’s great progressive tradition, we aim to hold the powerful accountable to the people, follow the money, and dig out the truth. Although we give you the inside scoop, we are not a publication for “insiders.” Instead, we cover stories and voices that too often go unheard.

We don’t accept advertising or sell subscriptions. Instead, we rely on the generous support of foundations and people like you, who care about Wisconsin and believe an informed public is crucial to a healthy democracy.

We take our inspiration from the motto emblazoned on a ceiling in our state Capitol: “The Will of the People Is the Law of the Land.”

The Examiner is part of The Newsroom, a network of state government news sites supported by the Hopewell Fund, a 501(c)(3) public charity. We retain full editorial independence.

(Wisconsin readers will recognize Ruth Conniff, Melanie Conklin, Erik Gunn, and Isiah Holmes.)

Before the recent recession (while Democrat Jim Doyle was still Wisconsin’s governor), it looked as though right-leaning websites might play an inquisitive role like this in Wisconsin. As soon as Republican Scott Walker became governor, however, any claim they made of speaking truth to power faded.

One wishes the best for the Wisconsin Examiner.

In the Whitewater area, nearby newspapers (Janesville Gazette, Daily Jefferson County Union, and whatever is left of the Whitewater Register) have played a role as uncritical boosters of government projects and right-leaning business groups. (Websites like Whitewater’s Banner were imitations of this style, which when commencing in 2006 must have seemed less like a style than simply the Natural Order of Things.)  Not one of these publications has a long-term demographic future along its present course.

Blogging, by the way, is especially fitting for these times.  (I’d say that’s true for most times).  Occasionally, people ask if I’d write something else for someone else.  (The suggestions often surprise.)  It’s kind, and although I might write something else, there’s no chance that I’d trade away being one’s own publisher.

And yet, being one’s own small publisher, one hopes also for others’ success, if it should rest on speaking truth to power.

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