FAITH IN THE HEART OF THE CITY (copy)

In this 2017 photo, Phil Haslanger moderates the Faith in the Heart of the City discussion at the Upper House in Madison.

The guy who for years was my right-hand person during my tenure as editor of this newspaper was inducted into the Wisconsin Newspaper Hall of Fame last week.

No one deserved that honor more than than Phil Haslanger, one of Madison's leading voices for social and racial justice.

After spending 35 years at The Capital Times, working his way up the ladder from reporter to city editor to editorial page editor to managing editor, Phil retired from the paper in 2008 to become an ordained United Church of Christ pastor — some would say a remarkable jump for a hard-bitten newspaperman.

But people who know Phil weren't surprised. Indeed, his concern for those who are often left by the wayside in our complex and puzzling society is what made him a great journalist and earned him a spot among the state's best.

His contributions to Wisconsin journalism are numerous. The Hall of Fame selection committee singled out his work as editorial page editor where he was a tireless advocate for empowering women and people of color.

I remember the role he played in our decision back in 1988 to endorse the Rev. Jesse Jackson in the Wisconsin presidential preference primary, a gutsy move that upset many, but helped advance Jackson's message of making the country face its long-standing inequities.

Jackson didn't win the primary but captured an impressive 28% of the statewide vote, finishing ahead of then Sens. Al Gore and Paul Simon, but behind the eventual Democratic nominee, Michael Dukakis. The Capital Times was one of only two mainstream American newspapers to endorse Jackson in any presidential contest that year. The other was the Philadelphia Daily News.

Phil further made us proud when he was elected president of the National Conference of Editorial Writers and engineered bringing the group's annual convention to Madison's Monona Terrace shortly after it opened in 1997.

For me, a hopeless Luddite, Phil help guide us all through the technological changes that swept the newspaper industry throughout the last two decades of the 20th century. He was with us when we finally abandoned typewriters and was a savior in helping us navigate the computer age, and then the digital era.

Even after he was ordained in 2007 as a pastor in the United Church of Christ, where he became one of the city's leading advocates in fighting poverty and inequality, journalism was still in his blood. For several years he authored a regular column for us on faith issues, he became president of the Religion News Service, and after he retired from the ministry in 2017 he was named to the board of the UW Journalism School's Center for Journalism Ethics, which he now chairs.

In other words, he's done it all.

Phil delivered an inspiring acceptance speech at the Hall of Fame ceremonies, not surprisingly urging the journalists there to be advocates for social justice. Protect the truth, he said, because that's what leads to trust.

"The strength of journalism is when we fall short, we correct our mistakes," he told the crowd.

Wise words from a Hall of Famer.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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