The great newspaper war that has been a fixture on UW-Madison’s campus for the past 50 years almost didn’t happen.
The Daily Cardinal began printing in 1892 and had 77 years of established readership when a new paper, The Badger Herald, emerged in 1969 to serve as some conservative competition.
The company in charge of national advertising for college newspapers traditionally serviced only one paper per campus and, in the beginning of the Herald’s first year, placed all of its ads where it always had: in the Cardinal. The company said it would not work with the Herald until it received permission from the Cardinal’s board, which the board refused to grant.
The Herald’s first editor-in-chief, Patrick Korten, told the Wisconsin State Journal in 1969 that without more advertising the paper would die in mere months.
But the paper didn’t fold, and this year the Herald is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Alongside the paper’s personal milestone there’s the recognition that — unlike the majority of other colleges and universities — UW-Madison has two student newspapers that have battled to provide campus coverage for half a century.
The Herald of 1969 and 2019 share several similarities.
The small, scrappy Herald in its first year produced a free weekly with a staff of about 15 people, including just one with newspaper experience.
The Herald eventually became a daily in the 1980s, but as the focus shifted to prioritize its web product, the paper scaled back its print edition until it became a weekly again in 2015.
“We started as an experiment, and that experiment continues today,” said Peyton David, an incoming UW-Madison senior who chairs the Herald’s board of directors.
The paper’s financial challenges didn’t end when the Cardinal eventually relented on its refusal to share national advertising.
“We started on a shoestring, and we’re still operating on a shoestring,” a Herald staffer said in the paper’s early years.
And like almost every other newspaper in the country, the Herald is in a precarious position. Reading patterns have shifted to online and social media, and the industry is in upheaval.
Herald circulation in 2017-18 was 11,000, David said. It was 8,500 a year later and a few pages shorter.
The plan for 2019-20, she said, is to print 8,500 copies of each weekly print edition, which highlights more in-depth news and feature stories. The Herald’s website includes more breaking and daily news coverage.
In the past academic year, reporters penned stories on the declining enrollment of humanities majors, the future of liquor licensing in Downtown Madison and the city’s affordable housing problems.
Abby Doeden, the Herald’s incoming editor-in-chief, says the Herald’s biggest challenge isn’t related to the paper’s finances — it’s increasing its readership. She and staff are considering more multimedia projects, such as a podcast, to attract a larger audience.
Challengers, not enemies
A point of pride for Heralders is its independence from the university.
Neither the Cardinal nor the Herald gets money from UW-Madison, although the Cardinal’s offices are in Vilas Hall. The Herald has an off-campus office at 152 W. Johnston St.
The Herald is not officially considered a student group, so it does not have a table at the student organization fair, which David said gives the Cardinal an advantage in recruiting.
Robyn Cawley, the Cardinal’s incoming editor-in-chief, said having another student paper makes both better.
“We’re not enemies,” she said. “We’re challengers.”
Cardinal and Herald staffers often work the same beats, face similar deadlines and sometimes cover the same stories — all while balancing an academic schedule.
David recalled working until 3 a.m. on the night of the gubernatorial election last fall, when the race was called for Tony Evers early in the morning. She went to work her 5:30 a.m. shift at Colectivo a few hours later.
UW-Madison journalism professor Michael Wagner said the university’s student media environment gives students a taste of what competition is like in the real world.
He also said the two-newspaper dynamic on campus reflects the state of the industry — competing for advertisers’ dollars and focusing on the online presentation, for example — in ways that a single-newspaper campus does not.
“It’s a valuable experience for what the economics of the industry are like,” Wagner said.