Nick Loniello never imagined that his independent student newspaper would last 50 years. In fact, none of the other founding members did either.
Perhaps by some miracle, though, what started out as an “experiment” is still standing — 50 years to the day that “Harrington protests: Budget hurts UW” ran on the front page of the very first issue of The Badger Herald.
It was never a lack of confidence in the staff’s journalistic abilities that made Loniello doubt the paper’s future prosperity, but rather a lack of financing. Ironically, this issue stemmed from a quality every journalist strives for: integrity. The staff refused to ask the university for assistance in establishing the Herald, and in turn, bankruptcy sometimes loomed right around the corner.
The founders likely could have obtained a small amount of funding to get themselves on their feet, but Loniello and his cohorts would have sooner capsized than sacrificed any amount of the Herald’s independence.
“We decided that more likely than not, the ship is going to go down, but it will go down with all of our flags flying, and we aren’t going to feed at the public trough — we’re not going to get a subsidy,” Loniello said. “We’re either going to be worthy of publication because we have a readership that commands advertising, or we just go out of business and have fun trying.”
Amid numerous relocations, dozens of editors, hundreds of new staffers and countless late nights at the office, independence and integrity are two key traits of The Badger Herald that have never faltered in its 50 years.
In 1969, stories and images of protests were abundant in nearly every newspaper around the nation — even in Madison, where riots surrounding the Vietnam war culminated in the bombing of Sterling Hall in 1970.
These events, coupled with what some University of Wisconsin students thought were extremely leftist views from papers around campus, are what the Badger Herald was founded on.
Four students gathered at the Brathaus on State Street one evening in 1969 and debated over what they should do to better record and combat the protests on campus.
Their idea was to create an alternative voice students could turn to that would shed a new light on the events surrounding the rallies and protests, all the while challenging common ideologies at UW.
Huddled around a few beers, Loniello and The Badger Herald’s other founders — Patrick S. Korten, Mike Kelley and Wade Smith — discussed how to create such a voice on campus.
One idea was to revitalize an older student magazine on campus, Inside and Outlook, which had died out in the early 60s, but the four decided they wanted something more serious.
It was then that they determined their answer: a weekly independent newspaper that would run on advertising revenue, and focus on issues surrounding the Madison community and student life.
After several months of fundraising, scrounging up desks and typewriters, and renting office space where the Sunroom Café is now located, the first issue of The Badger Herald hit the stands on Sept. 10, 1969.
Loniello, sometimes doubtful the paper would survive, said the staff members in the beginning fought hard to continue this experiment.
“The two things I’m most proud about from the Badger Herald is first and foremost the fact that there were students who came after us who believed that what we were doing was worthy of their participation,” Loniello said. “That’s the biggest compliment I’ve ever gotten in my life. The second thing that I’m most proud of is that it remains vigorously independent of any financial controls … That we are self-regulated, self-disciplined and we run our own show.”
Since that first office, The Badger Herald has changed quite a bit. Hundreds of staff members have had bylines, office locations have changed and the paper now has an online component.
The Editorial Board no longer carries its founding conservative viewpoints, but it does share the same core concept on which Korten, Loniello, Kelley and Smith founded the paper: to give a voice to the variety of views on campus.
UW School of Journalism and Mass Communication faculty member Robert Schwoch fondly remembers his involvement with the Herald between 1980 and 1982.
“We were sort of the rebels, the voice of the voiceless,” Schwoch said. “That was how we fancied ourselves.”
Despite all of the changes, one thing has remained the same throughout all of these years. The Badger Herald continues to be a place that aims to foster creativity and connections for every student that walks through the office doors, no matter where that office may be.
Students who come to UW looking to write for the university’s student newspaper will find they have to make a choice when they get to campus — whether to write for the Daily Cardinal or The Badger Herald.
Both newspapers are independent of the university, meaning they are not sponsored by UW and the university does not have any say over what the papers can and cannot publish.
2016-17 Editor-in-Chief Hayley Sperling said she originally decided to join the paper because a friend’s boyfriend was the city news editor at the time.
Sperling said that having two papers on campus brings healthy competition to both the Daily Cardinal and The Badger Herald. Since both papers have the exact same audience, it forces both to aim to be the better paper.
“The two papers definitely complement each other in a way that you’re pushing yourself harder to be one faster, and two better than each other. And sometimes the Cardinal scoops the Herald on a story and sometimes it goes the other way around,” Sperling said. “We’re competing for the same awards, we’re competing for the same audience, you know, everything, so again, it really goes back to the fact that this is real-life experience where you’re not only dealing with your own student-run newsroom, but you also have competitors.”
In the same vein, former Badger Herald graphic designer Davy Mayer said the fact that UW has two student newspapers makes both publications better than other student papers across the country.
Mayer added that the competition at UW forces both the staff at the Daily Cardinal and the Badger Herald to put out the better paper, therefore both papers have higher expectations than at a school with only one paper.
“I have seen newspapers from other Big Ten universities and they are pretty much ‘university terrible.’ And I think it’s because they don’t have competition,” Mayer said. “But here we have this absolute direct competition of equals and peers, and it made both of those pieces better.”
Fall 1992 editor-in-chief and current city editor at the Cap Times Jason Joyce said the UW campus is the “most competitive” media market in the country because every student involved has a “start up” mentality. This mentality has fostered other media start ups, such as the Onion.
This same competitive nature does not only affect the writing portion of the papers. In the end, both papers’ business departments have the same goal — to keep the papers printing.
“People who work [at the Herald] have to think in terms of business,” Joyce said. “I think that the business and competition aspect of this, and the necessity of looking at everything at the end of the month and making these decisions to stay in business is really a great experience.”
Though he now considers his time with the Herald as having revolutionized his college experience, Schwoch initially had no intention of joining the staff. But when the transmitter he used for his campus radio show broke, one of his journalism professors suggested he try his hand at writing in the meantime.
Schwoch started a sports column at the Herald, and one of his first pieces addressed a recent football game where enraged Badger fans ripped bleachers out of the student section and threw them over the side of the stadium in response to the team’s poor performance. UW was, unsurprisingly, quite angry with its student section, and Schwoch proposed a solution to the university: get a better football team.
“I raised all sorts of ‘h’ ‘e’ double ‘l’ over those next two years,” Schwoch said.
The Daily Cardinal was the official student newspaper at the time, so Schwoch said they were constrained as to what they could and could not write — something The Badger Herald did not need to worry themselves with.
Schwoch wrote and reported on issues regardless of if they targeted the university. Back when the men’s hockey team was one of the only UW squads having a good season, Schwoch investigated salaries and discovered that Bob Johnson, the hockey coach, was earning less than the losing basketball team coach. The next year, Johnson got a pay raise.
“We held the administration’s feet to the fire in a way most student newspapers couldn’t do back then,” Schwoch said. “[They] were risking [their] funding, and we weren’t.”
Schwoch shares both his fondness of the Herald and his current place of employment with fellow journalism school faculty member Katy Culver.
Students in the SJMC all likely know Culver, who teaches the school’s gateway course J202: Mass Media Practices. Regardless of which publication UW students choose to write for, she said it’s a win-win for the entire community.
“When you have two staffs driving each other like that, I think it’s fantastic for everyone involved, and for the campus.”
Though the existence of two student newspapers has fostered a friendly rivalry, Culver said it has also united the UW SJMC. Culver recalled a course she taught in the recent past where she witnessed the editors of both the Cardinal and The Badger Herald sitting together, a contrast to how each paper’s staffers used to sit separately in class.
Culver joked The Badger Herald and Cardinal competitors also can’t escape each other if they happen to be in the same J202 lab, something that has helped to break down the wall between the two papers and bring a sense of camaraderie from the newsroom into the classroom.
“The feeling that you used to only get in the student newspaper you now get in the [journalism] school as well,” Culver said.
A tightly knit community
Like any other student organization, The Badger Herald has its own community of past and present staffers.
For 50 years, The Badger Herald has served as a place for students with a passion for journalism to come together to form a team. And it’s not just daily articles that result.
“I probably made my best and most long-lasting friendships [at the Herald],” Mayer said. “You meet a lot of really great people and I’ve enjoyed following where they have gone since then.”
Mayer, who joined the Badger Herald in 1999 as a graphic designer and later worked on the website, has maintained connections with his fellow Heralders, and considers them close friends.
For many current staffers, it is important to remember past Heralders and everything they have done to get the paper where it is today. Matt O’Connor, 2018-2019 editor-in-chief, credits much of what he learned at The Badger Herald to those who came before him.
“Every single person who worked at the paper before me helped, in some way, to build the platform that I was blessed to lead for a year, and so all of them helped me out,” O’Connor said. “For that I am thankful.”
Tom Kertscher, Herald 1983-84 editor-in-chief, said the paper was a crucial part of his college career both socially and professionally.
“[The Herald] was really the glue for my experience at UW,” Kertscher said. “I came out of high school knowing exactly what I wanted to do and jumped into the Herald as soon as I got to campus. And so it was really the glue for me in the sense of being vital for my career and a big social outlet.”
Kertscher said The Badger Herald quickly became part of his daily life at UW, being at the office nearly every day as he moved up into the higher editorial roles.
And for Kertscher, The Badger Herald not only impacted his day-to-day college life, but became crucial to life after graduation as well.
“I think [The Badger Herald] was at least as important, if not more important, than the journalism coursework,” Kertscher said. “Getting to be thrown into different situations in the different positions … each step along the way, you’re gaining experience and confidence. As I went on, I felt like I could take on the next challenge and probably be successful.”
This preparation for the real journalistic world is one of the elements of The Badger Herald that Loniello is most proud of.
“The Badger Herald has definitely been a stepping stone for significant careers in journalism for many people,” Loniello said. “It’s a great launching vehicle and feather in the cap of somebody who aspires for journalism. And I dearly hope that this results in similar success for [current and future] staff.”
For some staffers, however, The Badger Herald gave them more than just a leg up in the professional world.
Culver’s passion for journalism and the opportunity to have an outlet for that outside of class was what originally drew her to the Herald. Upon graduation, though, she left the paper with more than she ever thought she would find.
Culver met her husband while working on staff. She was an associate news editor, and he was an associate sports editor. A tale as old as time.
“The Herald was truly a formative experience for me both professionally and personally,” Culver said. “[It] gave me a career, and it gave me a life.”
A continuing experiment
The Badger Herald mission statement reads, “The Herald strives to present objective news, entertaining sports and arts coverage and insightful editorial stances that reflect the interests and tastes of the University of Wisconsin community. In the process, we also hope to train the next generation of student journalists for success.”
And with that statement comes an exciting opportunity — something the founders knew from the beginning.
“This newspaper is an experiment,” Korten, the first editor-in-chief, wrote in the pages of the first Badger Herald issue. “We are attempting to do that which has never been done before.”
Every day, The Badger Herald continues to be an experiment, challenging us to create factual, objective and ethical journalism.
That challenge is what has kept students coming to the Herald for 50 years and will continue for years to come.
While Loniello says he is proud of how far the Herald has come and is hopeful for another successful 50 years, his dreams have already come true.
“When I was elected editor of the Badger Herald after its second year, I remember being seated at my desk in the Herald office,” Loniello said. “I imagined at that time, 48 years ago, that in my 70th year I would be invited to the Badger Herald 50th anniversary dinner party, and guess what happened … It’s a dream come true.”