Decades ago, as I settled into my tiny apartment to start graduate school in Washington, D.C., I subscribed to the Washington Post — seven days a week for $5 a month.
Many years later, when I oversaw operations as a vice president of Madison Newspapers, I realized that my $5 perhaps had covered the costs of paper, ink, printing and delivery. And perhaps not. But the costs of producing all of that incredible journalism, well, that had to have been supported entirely by print advertising revenue.
That was then. Print advertising is now a fraction of what it once was.
I have shared that anecdote in speeches about economic challenges facing news organizations and how even historic local newspapers like the Cap Times need to adapt. And when I’m not speaking about journalism economics I am likely talking about the assault on the profession’s integrity, epitomized by the popular use of “fake news” as a blanket descriptor for what is pejoratively called the “mainstream media.”
That’s the one-two of bad news.
The good news, in my view, is that Madison is blessed to continue to have two longstanding newspaper titles producing professional local journalism even as some communities now have none.
And my pitch to you is why this is a perfect time to join us as a financially supporting member of the Cap Times.
The best rationale would be to support an independent and locally owned journalism organization that aims to help you understand, improve and enjoy our distinctive city, region and state. But, especially, our city.
On our 100th birthday in 2017, we produced a video about our past and future, and we used a tagline that still resonates: “The Cap Times is as Madison as it gets.”
The video described how William T. Evjue created the Cap Times to champion progressive causes in its opinion pages. Also, through its news coverage and its editorial voice, to look out for ordinary people, refusing to be bullied by big-money interests. It’s still that way today.
Cap Times membership will give you the satisfaction that comes from supporting an iconic local institution that is part of what makes Madison, well, Madison. Beyond the dollars, it is also a crucial symbol of your engagement and support.
Our pledge at the Cap Times is to help you better understand, improve and enjoy Madison.
First and foremost, it starts with a terrific staff of journalists producing distinctive stories that help you better understand serious issues in local and state government, the university and our schools, as well as stories about our vibrant local culture.
We pride ourselves on our enterprise and investigative journalism, and our vigilant attention to issues affecting communities of color. We illuminate local issues through aggressive reporting and we write with thoughtful context, the kind of local journalism that is in increasingly short supply.
Second, and separately — with an emphasis on separately — our opinion voices have represented a progressive spirit dating back more than a century to Evjue and his political hero, Robert M. “Fighting Bob” La Follette.
The Cap Times opposed McCarthyism so fervently that the late U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy called the paper the “Prairie Pravda.” Long before that, we fought a proposed march by the Ku Klux Klan through downtown Madison and have advocated for civil rights throughout the 96 years since.
Today, when some say editorial voices should strive for some fictional “sensible center” in its opinions, I have a short answer: the middle ground between reasonable and Donald Trump is nowhere you want to be.
The third reason to be a member of The Cap Times is that we are, quintessentially, of Madison. The organization is run by a local board of directors on which I sit with Evjue’s heirs and others. We live here, love this city, and are invested in its future.
Evjue died without children in 1970, and in his will created the Evjue Foundation, our charitable arm, which has distributed more than $60 million to this community since his passing. The names Evjue and Lussier (Evjue’s nephew John H. “Jack” Lussier was board chairman until his death in 2018) are emblazoned on structures all over the city.
Perhaps more importantly, untold numbers of people have been boosted by our support for local human service programs. Earlier this year, we did two rounds of emergency funding, one in reaction to COVID-19 and a second directed at Black-led organizations in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd.
Still another reason to support us is that we serve as a laboratory for the future of journalism. Our annual Cap Times Idea Fest has grown into a powerhouse autumn event on the Madison calendar. We work with journalism organizations nationwide to be on the leading edge of innovation, such as a project this year called the People’s Agenda that used community input to shape questions for legislative debates we hosted and news coverage as well.
Cap Times membership comes with perks, such as gift cards to Willy Street Co-op and Cargo Coffee, and a free book about our history at certain levels of giving. You will also have access to members-only events, such as one Wednesday with Charlie Berens, a Wisconsin native whose “Manitowoc Minute” comedy segments in the style of newscasts have brought him national acclaim.
As a member, you will also have a chance to interact with our journalists. We are creating a member advisory panel and will have more members-only interactions in 2021.
You may wonder why we need you as a paying member if the Evjue Foundation has such deep pockets. Here’s the answer: Evjue could never have dreamed of the 21st-century crisis facing local journalism, so none of his philanthropic foundation’s resources can be directed to support his beloved newsroom.
Also, you might ask, aren’t you connected with the Wisconsin State Journal as business partners? Yes, we share profits, as well as presses and business functions in our building on Fish Hatchery Road, but our owners and journalistic aspirations are separate.
So there you have it. A distinctive brand for a distinctive city. We invite you to join us on this journalistic journey. Our promise to you is to listen and to continue to innovate.
Together, we can better understand, improve and enjoy Madison.