The thought has crossed my mind more than once: What if The Badger Herald never existed?
What if in 1969 the group of conservative students who founded what would become the country’s largest fully independent student-run newspaper had decided to have a few more beers, back off their dissatisfaction with the Daily Cardinal’s campus coverage and go home?
For one, it’s possible I wouldn’t be alive – and maybe in more ways than one.
For nearly 20 years after that group of unruly students founded the University of Wisconsin’s premier newspaper, my mother and father would meet in its newsroom — assistant advertising director and sports editor, respectively.
And another 20 years after a drunken night at the Essen Haus celebrating the Herald’s first daily edition going to press cemented my parents’ relationship, I joined the Herald staff as an opinion contributor — convinced I would rule the world with every column I penned.
But while world domination was on my radar, what I didn’t see coming was the depressive episode I would endure the following year, in the middle of my two-semester tenure as an opinion section editor.
I’m not in a position to say what would have happened had the Herald not been there. All I know is the late night productions and the people populating them helped me get through a time in my life when it seemed the pain, heartbreak and anger might actually have killed me.
But beyond my personal tale, I know if it weren’t for the Herald, thousands of young journalists may never have gotten the real-life, hands-on experience our J-school so very much lacks. (Though I have seen glimmers of hope in innovations such as The Observatory and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s class collaborations.)
This is not meant to be a blind dig on the hardworking professors or advisers who toil in Vilas Hall. But whether it be the inherent limits of a classroom or the lengthy and well-reported critiques Heralders before me have penned, I know the Herald has prepared me for life after graduation, wherever that may take me, exponentially more than my time in journalism classes.
It’s for these reasons I’ve decided to donate a portion of my graduation money to the Herald. Because while you see our beautifully designed print edition every Tuesday and our award-winning online coverage everyday, what you don’t see is the hours of planning, reporting and editing that go on behind the scenes.
Four years ago, I tentatively walked up the stairs of 152 W. Johnson St., a new guppy in a sea of 40,000 students. I glanced nervously around the Herald office full of new writers and thought, “These are gonna be my people.”
What I didn’t know at the time was that, through their tireless coverage of everything UW, Madison and Wisconsin, they would be your people too.
Madeline Sweitzer ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science, history and journalism.