With the inaugural Cap Times Idea Fest just days away, let’s review.
As we’ve said, we’ve planned a lineup of seriously big names and intriguing topics for our two-day event. The Sept. 16-17 weekend program will be packed with intellectual stimulation and fun in 29 sessions at three venues on the University of Wisconsin campus, spiced by a casual reception on Saturday night. (Tickets are available at captimesideafest.com.)
But beyond that, I want to explain how the festival fits into the bigger picture for the Cap Times, which I hope many of you regard as a cherished Madison institution.
This Dec. 13 it will be precisely 100 years since founder William T. Evjue produced the first edition of the Cap Times from a small storefront on King Street. But instead of waiting until the snow flies to write about our centennial, I’m doing it now, to connect with what is almost certainly the biggest Cap Times event ever.
My goal is to encourage Madisonians and others farther afield to see the Idea Fest in the context of our larger mission.
This year, we have tried to encapsulate the entire Cap Times story in a three-minute video. It talks about our history and then focuses on the three distinct components that we are about today.
Atop that list is the Cap Times staff of reporters and editors producing high-quality local enterprise journalism. In a time when un-researched and biased rants make up so much of what passes for news, the work of a traditional, professional newspaper staff has never been more vital.
When I was a reporter and editor at the Wisconsin State Journal years ago, I thought the presence of competitive newspaper organizations was something Madison was lucky to have, and I believe that more than ever today. As you look across the country at the staggering consolidation in the industry — there are more than 20,000 fewer newspaper journalists than two decades ago — Madison is well-served by this competitive, two-newsroom dynamic.
The Cap Times cannot cover everything, and we do little with sports, weather-front, traffic-accident and armed-robbery news — not that that stuff is not newsworthy, but it is covered adequately in print and is the focus of electronic media.
We instead focus primarily on public-affairs journalism: state and local government, schools, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the business sector with an emphasis on technology. We also reflect local culture through coverage of food, music, movies and theater.
You may notice that we try to pay special attention to communities of color, and have done so for years. We are keenly aware of the perception that the mainstream media most often shows up in those communities when there is “yellow tape” (i.e. a crime scene), but seldom for cultural celebrations and milestone events. We try hard to combat that perception.
Last year, our investigation of the shoddy treatment of military veterans at the state-run nursing home near Waupaca won three investigative reporting awards and, more importantly, changed the lives of those veterans. This year our interview with Judy Faulkner, the founder of Epic Systems and a person who typically eschews the media, was widely read and highly acclaimed.
In sum, whatever your political ideology, I’d suggest you should value the Cap Times newsroom, because we are — to borrow an old line from a war movie — “illuminating the terrain on which we’re deployed.”
On our opinion pages, which are distinctly separate, the Cap Times is still a full-throated advocate for peace and justice, as it’s been since Evjue left the State Journal staff over disagreement about United States involvement in World War I to found his own paper. That launched Evjue’s 53-year campaign — until his death in 1970 — against racism, sexism, militarism, McCarthyism and for protecting the environment and the rights of ordinary workers.
That editorial voice continues today through Dave Zweifel, our editor emeritus, as well as through associate editor John Nichols and me. (Dave and John have co-authored a book about Cap Times history available by the year-end holidays.)
Beyond news and opinion, the third pillar of the Cap Times mission is philanthropy. The Evjue Foundation has contributed more than $56 million to local causes, especially to programs benefiting those most in need, over the 47 years since Evjue’s death.
I suspect many do not make the newspaper connection when they see Evjue’s name on the press box at Camp Randall Stadium or on the terrace atop the Monona Terrace Convention Center among scores of other examples throughout Madison and beyond. And many, I also suspect, do not know quite how to pronounce his Norwegian name. (It’s “Ev” as in Evelyn and “you”).
Let’s pivot to the Idea Fest. Since 2014, the Cap Times has hosted monthly panel discussions, usually but not always about public affairs, at various venues in town before weeknight audiences that have on occasion reached 300. We have been gratified by their popularity, which we think reflects the fact that local audiences are drawn to smart and rewarding experiences.
So we have invented something much larger, something we think can grow and evolve over the years, becoming a much-anticipated mainstay on the Madison calendar.
UW-Madison was the first sponsor of the Idea Fest, providing the venues as well as credibility and momentum. That reminds me of another reason to look kindly on the Cap Times. Our Evjue Foundation lends significant annual financial support to the flagship Madison campus.
We are also gratified to have the Ho-Chunk Nation as our event’s presenting sponsor. The tribe has a deep and rich local history that is understood by few.
In sum, the Idea Fest represents a major strategic initiative by a Madison media institution we humbly think is effectively serving the city as it approaches this milestone birthday.
Unlike many local media events, our festival is not built around food and drinks, but is about important and honest conversations on the most important issues that face all of us.
And we think, to borrow an old “Animal House” line uttered in a different context by John Belushi, “We’re just the guys to do it.”
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