In 1969, pictures of protests covered the front pages of almost every newspaper in the nation. In Madison, four students sat at the Brathaus on State Street arguing over how to better record and combat the protests run-amok on campus.
The idea was to create an alternative voice on a campus, a voice that would cast the protests in another light and challenge common ideology.
Gathered in the back of the Brathaus, the Herald’s founders, Patrick S. Korten, Nick Loniello, Mike Kelly and Wade Smith, debated late into the night about how to establish such a voice. “How about revitalizing Insight and Outlook [a student magazine that had died in the early ’60s]?” No, they decided, that would be too boring. After the sixth beer, their vision became surprisingly clear: “How about starting a weekly newspaper? A newspaper that would focus on Madison and issues facing UW students?”
After several months of fundraising, scrounging for desks and typewriters, and renting offices where the Sunroom Café now stands (above Steve and Barry’s on State Street), the first issue of The Badger Herald was published Sept. 10, 1969. In the mid-1970s, the Herald moved to 550 State St. (above the current Qdoba). When the Herald moved to its present-day offices at 326 W. Gorham St. in 1998, the editors kept much of the furniture, including the original desks and homemade light board.
“This newspaper is an experiment. We are attempting to do what has never been done before, ” wrote Korten, the paper’s first editor in chief. (Korten went on to work as a congressional journalist and staffer and is now a public relations consultant at Rowan & Blewitt in Washington, D.C.)
In the early years, keeping a conservative newspaper afloat in liberal Madison was a moment-by-moment ordeal. Reporters sent out to cover the riots would sometimes come back bloodied. And, with tear gas shrouding the streets, editors were occasionally forced to wear gas masks while laying out the week’s paper. Staff members even put chicken wire on the Herald’s windows to discourage Molotov cocktails and other missiles.
“It was fully expected to go out of business in a year, ” said Loniello, a Herald contributor for 10 years and currently an attorney at Loneillo, Johnson and Simonini in Madison.
Against odds, the Herald did survive. It picked up State Street merchants, regional businesses and eventually even national corporations as advertisers. The Herald attracted writers and readers from a variety of backgrounds and philosophies.
In 1971, the Herald was on the brink of bankruptcy. Needing cash badly, the Herald hosted a fundraising dinner and managed to lure conservative author William F. Buckley to speak on the paper’s behalf. The fundraiser was a success and the Herald survived, eventually becoming a daily newspaper in the 1980s.
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the Herald flourished, at one point reaching a circulation of 20,000, a circulation that proved bigger than the audience (Today, the Herald boasts a daily circulation of 16,000).
As the Herald grew in size and importance, its content became more closely watched and criticized. The Herald was no longer a fledgling conservative rag free to consistently offend whomever it pleased without community reaction.
In 1993, the Herald was criticized for printing a cartoon in which the Cleveland Indians mascot, Chief Wahoo, was equated with Sambo. While some found the satire racist, the Herald argued that the cartoon was an attempt to attack racism rather than promote it.
In 1999, the Herald was attacked after printing another controversial cartoon, this one involving a student of color being shocked that Ward Connerly, an anti-affirmative action activist, was African-American. This time, the Herald’s editor in chief capitulated, offering an apology and a retraction on the front page. The Opinion editor quit the Herald, convinced the leadership had forgotten the paper’s ideological roots.
In 2001, the Herald published a national advertisement by conservative author David Horowitz that argued against giving African-Americans reparations for slavery. In the weeks that followed, the Herald weathered threats and protests. Its distribution was disrupted. While many newspapers capitulated, the Herald stood firm. The editors refused to concede that the Herald was a “racist propaganda machine ” and did not apologize for publishing the advertisement.
The Herald’s position was lauded in Wall Street Journal, USA Today and the Wisconsin State Journal. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorialized that the Herald is “living proof that the Constitution is a living document. “
In the three decades since its birth, the Herald has grown from a weekly conservative rag to the nation’s largest fully independent student daily and the most award-winning student newspaper in Wisconsin.
Today, the Herald’s founders look with pride and astonishment at the paper’s continued editorial and financial success. At the Herald’s 30th anniversary bash, the founders and hundreds of former editors and contributors reunited to celebrate the University of Wisconsin’s independent student newspaper. One of the founders said the Herald’s ongoing success was one of his proudest achievements.
“The satisfaction now is in knowing that students come after you and give their time as well, ” Loniello said. “I’m really glad that it’s still around. “