Heinen: Madison media, we’re in this together

Local news gathering is a responsibility and a privilege and those of us who do it take it seriously.
madison capitol building with various news sources around

I am made aware daily of what I miss, followed instinctively by an appreciation for what I have. It’s a tension that feels necessary in the midst of all this, the balance of yearning and gratitude.

As a writer I am used to the familiar work of gathering information, visiting places where life happens in all its wondrous ways, talking to people, plumbing trusted sources in search of the essence of the writer’s work: naming the unnamed in order to understand it better and fear it less.

In the absence of the interpersonal modes of information gathering, I appreciate even more the daily arrival of the Wisconsin State Journal — especially Wednesdays with The Cap Times tucked inside — the soothing voices of Wisconsin Public Radio, the sports radio folks trying valiantly to provide normal sports-related content in an abnormal sports-free world, web-based journalism sites like Madison365, and especially the work of my colleagues at News 3 Now, channel3000.com and here at Madison Magazine. And I miss Isthmus.

Collectively we are hyper-local news providers — what a former news director of mine used to call local-local. It’s news about everything that makes our community unique and quirky, stories about people you know or think you know and issues and events about which you are curious or concerned. This is news you can’t get anywhere else, produced and delivered by people who live here. Local news gathering is a responsibility and a privilege and those of us who do it take it seriously. And when newsworthy events occur which affect public safety or the functions of daily life, that sense of responsibility is heightened. That’s what we’re doing right now, and it feels weird not to have Isthmus here with us.

The Madison Magazine team in particular defines our mission as reflecting this city, its extraordinary assets and its uglier shortcomings, in our storytelling, our images, our art and our business. Isthmus did the same.

Their difficult yet understandable decision to go dark leaves a void. We hope that decision is short-lived. But in the interim we’ve reached out to the folks at Isthmus to see if we can help them get through this.
My appreciation and respect for Isthmus goes back to its inception. I was among the invited guests at the Dangle Lounge (it’s a long story) on a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1976 where founders Vince O’Hern and Fred Milverstedt had the pages of the first issue laid out on the stage. Over the years, Isthmus’s roster of staff and contributing writers included many good friends and colleagues.

So I very much appreciated that Morgan Murphy Media – Madison Vice President and General Manager Tom Keeler contacted the executives at Isthmus to ask if we could help keep a glimmer of light shining for the alternative weekly. The first outcome is in this issue, a terrific piece of journalism on a life-saving needle exchange program, written by Madison freelance writer Alicia Artus, that was to have run in Isthmus. We’re exploring other opportunities to collaborate as well. The phrase that keeps coming up is “We’re all in this together.”

As media entities, we depend on local businesses to support our work and see the value in reaching readers and viewers in the community we serve together. Without that support we’re as vulnerable as Isthmus. But together we can come out of this stronger — as trusted local voices, sources of support, reassurance and hope, and as a community.

Neil Heinen is editorial director of Madison Magazine and WISC-TV.