Today The Capital Times officially turns 100.
I've been here 55 of those years thanks to my getting up enough courage to go marching to William T. Evjue's home on Lake Mendota in the spring of 1962 and asking him for a job.
His sister Nellie let me into the house and summoned her brother to the parlor to meet this college-kid visitor. The sweat was beading on my forehead as I reminded him that I was this young kid from New Glarus who in high school had printed a little weekly mimeographed newspaper and who had come to meet him in his office several years before and he had told me that when I was getting ready to graduate from the university I should come and see him and ...
"I said that?" Mr. Evjue retorted. "Well, if that's the case guess I'll have to make good on my word."
He promptly picked up the phone next to his chair, called The Capital Times newsroom and told executive editor George Stephenson that he was sending a young guy down to join the staff and he should put me on the payroll as a reporter.
There was still about a month to go before graduation, so it was decided I'd start the day after, and except for two years off for active duty in the field artillery I've been here ever since.
I recall those early days because not only were they the beginning of a rewarding career, but the start of a bad habit that took me years to shake. When I visited the newsroom that day Mr. Evjue sent me there, I noticed that everyone — and I mean everyone — smoked cigarettes. Figured if I were to fit in, I'd better join the clique. That night I bought a pack of Kents (with the micronite filter, later discovered to contain asbestos) and started teaching myself to smoke.
The first day on the job I lit up a cigarette and asked my new boss, city editor Cedric Parker, where the ashtrays were.
"You're standing in it, kid," the grizzled Parker replied — and had I been more observant before asking a stupid question, I would have noticed that the tile floor was covered with stamped-out butts and deep-brown burns. The janitors just swept them up in the evening.
But those were the old days, when typewriters tapped, wire service teletypes clacked, phones rang, reporters and editors argued loudly across the noisy room, copy editors cut and pasted stories written on brownish copy paper to make them make sense, editors drew "dummies" so the printers would know how to build the pages from the hot-lead type stamped out by the linotype operators. Stereotypers would mold those hot-type pages into semicircular plates that would travel down a conveyor belt to the press room, where the pressmen would hoist those 80-pound cylinders onto the big press while the circulation workers waited for the finished papers to come down another conveyor belt after being neatly bundled by the crew in the mail room.
We used to call it a daily miracle, because somehow amidst all that noise and organized confusion a well-organized, readable bundle of news, sports and features came into being — not once, but in the heyday of the mid-'60s, four editions every day but Sunday.
My first years at the paper were the last years of the hot-type era, a method of production that had been around for a couple hundred years. It took only a couple more decades, though, to replace — some might say destroy — it. The march of technology not only made creating a newspaper much simpler but eliminated tens of thousands of skilled "back shop" jobs as "cold type" produced on computer screens made them obsolete.
While the back shop, except for the presses and mail room, essentially went away and today digital newspapers are replacing printed ones, the soul of The Capital Times — the men and women who cover the stories, write the editorials and columns and serve as the people's watchdog — survived. During these 55 years I've had the privilege of working alongside some of the most talented and dedicated journalists to have graced this business.
They all made The Capital Times the unique newspaper it was and still is: a crusader for good government and fairness that pulls back the curtain on wrongdoing and corruption, a protector of people's rights, and an advocate for the progressivism that inspired William T. Evjue to start this journey 100 years ago today.
The book John Nichols and I wrote about the paper's 100 years details some of those crusades, from the environmental battles to the civil rights battles, from the Vietnam War exposes to the fights for Madison's future.
I started as the paper's farm reporter, where I exposed many of the injustices farmers had to deal with in a corrupt marketplace. I covered city hall and the state Capitol and did stints as an investigative reporter. I became the city editor, managing editor and then, for 25 years, the editor in chief.
Now in my old age as the editor emeritus, I see a 100-year-old newspaper that is still young and vibrant and willing to take the chances and fight the fights that Mr. Evjue envisioned when those first papers came off the press on Dec. 13, 1917.
He set us off on quite a ride.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. email@example.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel
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