As the holidays approach, many of you probably feel overwhelmed by the drumbeat of revelations from impeachment hearings that conjure reminders of the dark eras of Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon.
The populist tide reinforced by Fox News propaganda poisons conversations around race and immigration and, well, pretty much everything.
Here at the Capitol in Madison, you continue to witness the specter of broken politics and urban-rural divisions.
Meanwhile, a professional media capable of keeping you informed and engaged struggles with eroding business models while taking relentless hammer blows from a president who regards a free press as an enemy of the people.
Contrast that with what William T. Evjue, founder of The Capital Times, added as the slogan of our editorial page in 1929: “Let the people have the truth and the freedom to discuss it and all will go well.”
It is against that backdrop that I am asking that you consider becoming a member of the Cap Times this holiday season for reasons that are both emotional and tangible.
And, let me be clear, this is a unique pitch at a unique moment, which I will explain. We have been building to this moment and believe we have, more than ever, a powerful value proposition for you.
A few years ago, the Cap Times — based on our highly credible local journalism, progressive opinion and philanthropy — employed the tagline “As Madison as it gets.” A twist on that is that being a Cap Times member will help you “get Madison” and better understand this marvelous, fast-evolving but imperfect capital city.
At the forefront of that effort is a staff of first-rate journalists — about a dozen writers and editors who strive to report on everything from the back stories at city hall to goings on at the University of Wisconsin to what’s happening in Madison’s many diverse communities to theater and the latest trends in new restaurants. We also pride ourselves on investigative journalism, the most needed variety, but also the most expensive and time-consuming to produce.
So most importantly, your membership support helps pay for the kind of local journalism that is under siege across the nation.
Also importantly, your membership dollars support the progressive opinions on which the Cap Times was founded, voices not only of experience from our deeply connected staff writers, but from others in the community for whom we provide a platform to share ideas.
There is also our philanthropy. Our Evjue Foundation, of which I am a board member, has donated more than $60 million over its nearly 50 years, including designating more than $500,000 at a meeting just this week.
People sometimes ask me why we need financial support from members if we are able to give away so much money. It is because when Mr. Evjue died in 1970, he could never have imagined the internet and its impact on the business of journalism, so he moved a large share of his stock into the foundation, where it cannot be used to support our newsroom.
As a result, a sizable portion of Cap Times profits will continue to flow back into Madison via causes we think would be dear to Mr. Evjue, such as helping children living in poverty. That is spectacular for the city, but it places added pressure on us to pay for our journalism.
One way to think about it is that membership dollars also support the benevolence of Mr. Evjue’s foundation, which is pretty cool.
So enough of the emotional appeal of being a Cap Times member, let’s get to the tangible.
One of those benefits is preferential access to our events. We completed our third star-studded and compelling Cap Times Idea Fest on the UW campus this fall and are planning for next year already.
For the uninitiated, Idea Fest is several days of more than two dozen sessions featuring nearly 100 speakers on topics that range from electoral politics to the tech economy to diversity in theater and Hmong culinary traditions. Members get reduced-price tickets for Idea Fest.
Throughout the year, we host public events each month that members will have preferred access to in the form of free tickets, preferred seating or advance information. We have done these for several years now but we intend to raise their profile to mirror Idea Fest sessions in their quality. The next one is in December — a discussion with members of the visiting cast of the musical “Hamilton” at the Overture Center for the Arts.
We also pledge to offer members the opportunity to better know and share ideas with Cap Times staff. We will be asking members for their ideas about what our events should look like, for example.
Another tangible benefit of membership will be an enhanced user experience for our digital content. Right now, we are designing a members-only experience for phone, tablet and desktop that will eliminate almost all advertising and have other enhancements.
We also will provide superb customer service for our members. We have partnered with a national nonprofit organization — the News Revenue Hub — that specializes in helping digital-first news organizations, most of which are nonprofits. They have brought us a suite of carefully calibrated software tools that provide simplicity and dependability. Members will also be able to reach us directly and not rely on a call center someplace else.
By the way, it was the Hub that suggested we put more time and effort into crafted email newsletters to our members and other fans. That initiative is in process.
Frankly, this is an important moment for us. We are asking the community to step up to show that it really values this locally owned gem. This is all about identifying a critical base of devoted fans, of partners, who think what we do is essential to the quality of life in Madison, and specifically, to their lives.
Please, this season, consider joining us.