On election night 2002, discussion about starting a new, independent newspaper started between myself and another media activist. The discussion was cut short that night when Senator Russ Feingold made a surprise appearance at the bar-restaurant we were at, providing the happiest sort of interruption. Our talks eventually resumed, and in January 2004, The Wisconsinite debuted. Billed by its publisher (yours truly) as being “brazenly leftist,” The Wisconsinite set out to cover news stories that were ignored by mainstream media outlets such as the Wisconsin State Journal and Madison’s weekly paper Isthmus. We felt that Isthmus had become too much a part of the yuppie culture that had come to dominate Madison’s culture, and something needed to come tweak it on the nose and remind it of what a newspaper could and should do.
We set out with lofty goals, and we actually made a pretty kick-ass paper. Many people were impressed wit our coverage of issues. Our first issue’s cover story was written by a Wisconsinite who travelled in Iraq on the eve of the Iraq War, and was followed up nine issues later with a cover story about a nun’s view of the hollow democracy the war had tried to create there. Other cover stories were on Tommy Thompson’s role in attempting to bring TABOR to Wisconsin (“Dr. No and the Spectre of A.L.E.C.”), or the corrosive influence of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the lobbying group that bought two of the last three state supreme court elections.
Like many alt-weeklies, the first half was news, the second half arts and entertainment. Our two editors were brilliant at filling each half. The mysterious identity of Ahab, our scribe who penned “The Crawl Space” column about fine local bars, has never been determined. But some of our writers shone in their own ways. I regularly see Stacie Williams’ byline in Milwaukee publications. Kyle Myhre has found success in his hip hop act El Guante. And the two editors, Kristian and Bob, found homes with our once-hated opponent rag Isthmus. Their perspectives and time with The Wisconsinite have helped improve Isthmus, both online and in print.
Two other writers for my fine lefty rag bear mentioning. One was Jay Bullock, who was then best known for his hard-hitting policy on the use of conjunctives in his English classes. Jay also had a little blog that you may have seen before. As Kristian and I were starting a newspaper, and being twenty-first century boys, we knew we’d need a blogger. So Kristian contacted Jay about blogging for us about life and politics in Wisconsin.
As I recall it, Jay said that he was too busy to do it, but he recommended that we talk to this woman who ran a blog called “The Candidate’s Wife.” Her husband evidently was about to take on incumbent U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, and she felt compelled to blog about it. She said okay, and blogging soon began at The Vast Dairy State Conspiracy (now accessible only through archive.org). I occasionally looked at the blog, and while I really enjoyed the author’s writing, I eventually learned that she was married — and lived in Waukesha. Given that I was in Madison at the time, Waukesha was a mythical land where liberals were roasted on spits set above perfectly astroturfed lawns. That’s not actually so, but these two facts were enough for me to write her off as a future/possible romantic interest.
Fast forward to October 2004. Four months earlier, I had killed The Wisconsinite, largely as a result of changes in the media marketplace in Madison and Milwaukee People loved the paper, but advertising money had been sucked up by the new faux-alt weekly papers that the two big newspaper companies in Wisconsin had produced. While both of those intruders would also be gone within relatively short time, they succeeded in killing off El Wisco.
Capitalism at work.
I got a job to pay the outstanding printing bills, and found myself shoved from the enjoyable role of publishing and distributing a newspaper into the grinding drudgery of enabling the commission of overseas credit card fraud agents and bored teenagers who enjoyed sexually harassing their classmates. And, on a whim, I looked at The Vast Dairy State Conspiracy to see if this Stacie person was still writing it.
A note on the blog said that word had come down that the paper was shutting down, so she’d need to find a new home for the blog. I emailed her and said, “No, don’t go! I’ve got big plans for the next version of my publishing empire, Wisco 2.0!” She wrote back, saying she’d stick around. And things went from there. In fact, the discussion went something like this:
Stacie: I just separated from my husband.
Me: Oh, you’re separated too? I’m very sorry to hear that. [In my head: “Exxxxcellent…“]
• • •
Five years, twleve glorious issues, and one little blog post later, we have what may be the first veritable proof that one piece of Truly Liberal Leftist Media™ has made something very good. Stacie Rosenzweig, former author of The Vast Dairy State Conspiracy and a fine op-ed in issue #11 of The Wisconsinite has become my wife.
I love you, Stacie! And I’d do it all over again for you.