Forty years ago, four University of Wisconsin students met at a downtown Madison bar to share more than just a brat and a beer. They shared a common desire: to provide the UW with an alternative voice. Expecting failure, founding editors Patrick S. Korten, Nick Loniello, Mike Kelly and Wade Smith, launched the first issue of The Badger Herald as an alternative to the then-radically liberal Daily Cardinal.
“I always tell people we did it because we had too many beers,” Loniello said. “At the time, quite frankly, we thought it was an inspiring idea, but we had a fundamental expectation of failure. We were going to give it our best effort and if the ship was going to sink, all of our flags would be flying when she went down.”
The Herald hit stands Sept. 10, 1969, after the founding editors spent months fundraising and looking for desks and typewriters to fill the office space they had rented, which is now occupied by the Sunroom Caf?.
“We were the true radicals on campus at the time,” Loniello said.
The early years
After the Herald’s first year of publication, editors reaffirmed their mission when violence hit campus.
On Aug. 24, 1970, a group of UW students bombed Sterling Hall to make a statement against the university’s research connection to the military during the Vietnam War, killing one researcher.
The Daily Cardinal published an editorial in which a student wrote, “Finally, some members of this movement decided to stop talking, to stop asking that the place be shut down. And so they blew it up.”
Loniello said the Cardinal was applauding the efforts of those who bombed Sterling Hall, which he and other editors saw as a tragic event. He wrote a strong editorial against the Cardinal’s stance, stating the bombing was against UW academic values and “just plain wrong.”
At the time, the Herald editors faced “social shunning,” Loniello said, because of their conservative viewpoints.
However, increasing numbers of UW students started to like the Herald and the perspectives it offered in its content.
But in that same year, the paper ran into financial trouble. William F. Buckley agreed to come speak at a fundraising dinner at no cost to help the paper stay afloat.
“If it weren’t for that dinner, we probably would’ve folded,” he said.
Switch to daily publication
In fall 1986, the Herald decided to switch from weekly to daily publication, a dream the founding class had hoped might someday become reality.
Assistant news editor at the time Katy Culver, then Katy Bartzen, said the business staff did an amazing job of selling ads to support daily publication and the editorial staff transitioned successfully into daily reporting.
“I think we all learned how to be incredibly adaptable on the fly,” Culver said. “There were a lot of nights where we were right up to the last minute.”
Without current technologies, editorial and design staff produced the paper by hand, taking long strips of copy and cutting and pasting them onto page layouts.
Since the Herald first published in 1969, it has operated solely on advertising revenue.
“The Badger Herald remains, to this day, vigorously independent of UW subsidy and entirely self-managed and controlled,” Loniello said.
The UW Board of Regents at one point wanted to match the funding it provided to the Cardinal, but Loniello continually refused, telling them the Herald would not accept the money even if they voted to grant it.
Today, the Herald continues to operate off advertising revenue, with nearly 70 salaried employees and dozens of contributors.
“I think we do wear that independent label like the red badge of courage,” Culver said.
The tradition continues
A competition that started 40 years ago has outlasted most people’s expectations and is unique in today’s journalistic landscape.
“We have a level of competition here that no one even has in a city anymore,” Culver said.
The vision that was born at a downtown bar over a beer and a brat has lasted for 40 years and will continue into the future.