A researcher recently contacted The Badger Herald about a project assessing threats to college newspapers. I ran him through the typical information researchers want to know: Yes, we are entirely independent. No, the university cannot censor us. Yes, there is another daily student paper on campus. No, we do not have adults on staff.
After exhausting his list of questions, the researcher’s professional tone changed to one of amazement. After speaking to college newspaper staffs across the nation, we were the only true case of independence he had come across. We were unique.
Working at the Herald day after day, year after year, it is easy to forget that we are different. I’m not talking about the special kind of quirk our staff unfailingly exhibits or even the content we put out each day. I’m talking about that at its very core, the Herald is something different. Part of that is the perfect storm that Madison creates for college media. We’re lucky to be close to the news generators at the campus, city and state level. We’re lucky to have competition in Madison’s professional media outlets and the Daily Cardinal. We’re lucky to have a university that lets us distribute in their buildings, takes our late night calls and touts us as an important part of the fabric that is campus.
Most of all, what makes the Herald different is the principles on which we operate. In our office, there is an unassuming drawer that sits in the editor-in-chief desk. Most people don’t know it is there; I certainly didn’t until the desk was my own. If you open it, you’ll find folders upon folders of documents detailing the decisive moments in our history. There are the moments where we did something in the name of free speech, and there are the often-related moments where we clashed with campus. There are the moments where we struggled, the moments where we succeeded and the moments where we failed. Together, all of these moments make up the institution that is the Herald: an experiment on the University of Wisconsin campus that for 42 years has turned students into journalists and journalists into experimenters.
I am so proud to have called the Herald a home for the last four years, and I am so proud of the incoming staff. The spirit of experimentation is as ingrained in them as it was in our founders so long ago, and it will carry them forward to many more years of success.