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Exactly 100 years ago last Wednesday, the Cap Times joined Madison’s media market and brought a progressive editorial voice that remains today.

The newspaper had a “brutal start” in 1917, associate editor John Nichols said at a birthday celebration at Monona Terrace last Tuesday night. The paper published the names of war profiteers and paperboys were hounded in the streets.

“It was a really bitter time because The Capital Times stood up for dissent,” Nichols said on a panel with editor emeritus Dave Zweifel and editor and executive publisher Paul Fanlund. The discussion was moderated by former Wisconsin Public Radio host Joy Cardin.

At the beginning, the Capital Times was met with hostility.

The Wisconsin State Journal editor at the time, Richard Lloyd Jones, accused Cap Times founder William T. Evjue of being pro-German, a scare tactic during wartime, according to Nichols’ and Zweifel’s book on The Capital Times. Jones also instigated the State Council of Defense to send a report to the Department of Justice about the Cap Times and its “subversive activities,” resulting in federal investigators monitoring Evjue and the paper.

The investigator eventually concluded that the charges were unfounded, and Evjue pushed for a report clearing The Capital Times’ name.

“It was essential to the realization ... of the Cap Times as a part of local media,” Nichols said.

The newspaper’s model may have changed from a daily afternoon paper to a weekly print and digital-first publication in the last several years, but the purpose of the organization remains the same, Fanlund said.

“The continued role of The Capital Times is providing hard hitting, objective, authoritative journalism in this market at a time in which there is less of that,” Fanlund said.

Hundreds turned out to celebrate the newspaper’s birthday including U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, former Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton, former state appeals court Judge Paul Higginbothom and Umoja publisher Milele Chikasa Anana.

Many celebrated the newspaper’s well known progressive editorial voice, which famously backed Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette and was one of the first publications to speak out against Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

The lack of a progressive voice in Madison was why Evjue created the paper and made it a “real force for justice and peace” in Wisconsin, Zweifel said.

“His newspaper, to him, was him,” Zweifel said. “You couldn’t distinguish between him and The Capital Times.”

Calling The Capital Times a “bright star,” Higginbothom stressed the importance of a strong editorial voice in an increasingly less diverse media market.

“This is a day of tremendous, tremendous consolidation in the press and the result is we are losing our voice,” Higginbothom said. “It’s all coming down to just a handful of major corporations, and they are forcing their voice upon us.”

Though several lamented the fact that The Capital Times is no longer a daily paper — and hasn’t been since 2008 — they also recognized the changing journalism landscape. Nichols is positive about the future of Madison’s progressive newspaper and credits its readers for the newspaper’s staying power.

“As long as there are people like you who believe that our journalism must speak truth to power, not merely reject fake news but actually challenge fake governance and challenge the power of the elites and the power of the economic and political oligarchs,” Nichols told the crowd, “as long as there are people that want that, there will be a Capital Times.” 

Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.