Newspapers around the state - big chain dailies and small weeklies alike - have just observed the 150th anniversary of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association (WNA). That makes it the oldest press association in the world. On hand for a "big bash" celebration in Middleton, complete with indoor fireworks, were the governor, lieutenant governor and three members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which is noting a similar anniversary.
Today, WNA has 217 weekly and 36 daily members, 35 campus members along with nearly 200 associate, affiliate, golden and sustaining members. Total circulation reaches 2.5 million subscribers.
One of the night's speakers was Mike Mathes, former WNA president and a fellow small-town, family newspaper publisher. Speaking from the heart, he made it clear why some of us seek out and even endure this profession.
"Such an occasion called for an opportunity to pause and reflect on the meaning of those 150 years of battling for the newspaper industry - including the ongoing struggle to maintain open records, open meetings and press freedoms, not only in Wisconsin but in our nation," Mathes wrote in a follow-up column in his Kiel Tri-County News.
"Newspapers, alone, stand as one of the strong institutions in their community. They gain their stature from strength of purpose. We are an institution that provides public information, a vital element in any democratic form of government. ...
"The strength of purpose of newspapers flows from the fact that they have long been a stable, recognized source of public notice. In newspaper notices, government entities are not only asked to alert the public to meetings, budgets, elections and decisions of record, they essentially leave a paper trail for all to follow. Current and upcoming budget crises for state and local governments should not be seen as an avenue to interrupt this vital link between elected officials and the people they represent. Publication of legal notices insures open and honest government. It does so in a medium that stands the test of time, rather than one that may be so fleeting as a post to a web site.
"Newspapers take root in their strength of purpose as an avenue for a free exchange of ideas. Be they liberal or conservative - in support of our ideas or contrary - our viewpoints pages have always been open to a free discussion on the opinions of the day. As Thomas Jefferson once said, we may disagree vehemently with what some of our letter writers or even our columnists may have to say, but we will defend to the death their right to say it. Do letter writers or columnists in Iraq or Saudi Arabia have the same conduit to freedom of expression - hardly. The result is a government that operates out of oppression, silencing its critics and often extorting or even torturing them into submission to the government's message of the day.
"Finally, the strength of purpose of newspapers stems from their role in the free and open marketplace of our local economics. ...
"From this strength of purpose have grown individual institutions which stand tall in their own communities. Yet, like the mighty redwoods, whose network of roots lies just beneath the surface, they are all intertwined with the same strength of purpose. Together, in their common struggle for the past 150 years, they have jointly advanced the cause of supporting our economic and democratic way of life.
"One further aspect of newspapers that is vital to consider is their permanence. Newspapers are mirrors of today's communities - a snapshot of what life in that community is like on any given day or week. Yet, long term, they serve as portals of history, always in print to reflect on the events of our times throughout all posterity. The power of the printed word has permanence. It reminds us of the old anecdote - bartenders drink their mistakes, doctors bury theirs, but newspaper publishers live with theirs forever. Long after a web site has refreshed, a radio broadcast has faded into the woodwork, or a television newscast has been archived on videotape, the words and pictures in a newspaper will still be there for all to see. We may see the coming and going of media, but as long as people are born with eyes and trained to read, newspapers will be the easiest means of accessing vital information to help our society move forward."
WNA has been an important part of our lives personally, and we are proud to be counted among the stewards of the newspaper tradition.
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It is with equal pride that we congratulate our own staff on some awards garnered at the WNA convention. Five advertising honors join the many other plaques and certificates this newspaper has collected over the years.
Special recognition goes to long-time graphic artist Lizette Crossman and newer sidekick, Jessica Dittmer, who put their talents to work designing these winning ads and others like them week after week. Likewise, acknowledgement is extended to sales representatives Mark Nyberg and Kim Ann Beller, who are in the trenches, meeting face to face with the advertisers each day, working to help them develop individual ads and campaigns that are not only successful, but attractive and affordable. And, there's General Manager Ann Becker, who helps tie everything together, and can claim many of the campaign ideas herself.
We'd be remise, however, in not always recognizing how a newspaper's success hinges on its entire staff: from the person answering the phones, to the reporters who add the news content, to the proofreaders, to an entire mailing crew who get the final product out the door. There wouldn't be a newspaper in your hands without all their efforts.