Tell It and Think It and Speak It and Breathe It

An announcement: My new book is now available for pre-order.

It Doesn’t End with Us is the history of the Daily Cardinal, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s 115-year-old student newspaper. It is the story of deadlines and datelines, dating and mating, rock and roll, indie films, and protest politics. It’s the story of two World Wars and two worker strikes, a shutdown, a bombing, and a centennial birthday. It’s the story of long nights and longer days in a windowless basement, of journalism on the edge, and of college kids discovering their dreams.

The cover, by a dear friend whose ownjournalism book is a great resource, especially for those who find themselves branching out from blogging:

“The paper’s history includes so much of the social fabric of this country, ranging from the World Wars and the Red Scare through the consumer culture of the 1980s and the digital age. And yet, it is in the personal stories by which Hantschel captures the essence of the paper. It is by no means only a book about one newspaper and one student group’s experience. It is a historical story that defines the best in all of us: the desire to belong to something larger than ourselves as we dare to be great.”
— Vincent F. Filak, author, Convergent Journalism

You can pre-orderIt Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the The Daily Cardinal here. Scroll down a bit if you don’t see it at first.

The Amazon information’s in the works. Pre-order though them coming soon.

I worked at the Cardinal myself for four years, beginning as a book reviewer, then a disastrous stint as editor-in-chief (in which I discovered I was in all respects unsuited to upper management) and then arts editor. I learned to write there, I learned to report there, I learned there what it meant to care about something and fight for something and love something there, I met my husband and a dozen of my closest friends there, and I was far from alone:

Legendary NBC broadcaster Edwin Newman was the paper’s foremost news reporter. Nine Pulitzer Prize winners met some of their first deadlines at the Cardinal, including former Associated Press photographer Neal Ulevich, Washington Post foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid, and Los Angeles Times writer Abigail Goldman. New York Times editorial board member Karl Meyer, authors Jerrold and Leona Schecter, Milwaukee Journal editor Dick Leonard, all recall their Cardinal years as their first and best experiences in journalism. Dwight Pelkin, sports columnist for the Sheboygan [Wis.] Press for more than 40 years, put it best when he said of the love for journalism the Cardinal inspired: “We briefly made sorties into other work like public relations or advertising, but something always told us to forget it. It wasn’t us.”

I’ve been in love with the paper’s story for 15 years, since I set foot in that newspaper office. I was headed up the hill to class, away from the journalism building, flipping through the paper as I walked, and saw an ad: Writers wanted. Meeting today. I hadn’t planned on joining anything the first semester of my freshman year, not until I figured out how hard classes were going to be (oh, for the days I was naïve enough to think journalism school was gonna be tough) but the meeting was in 10 minutes. Why the hell not? I got lost, I followed the sound of voices to a windowless basement, I ducked in through the crowd and sat on the floor while people gave speeches. These people were funny and smart, they were loud, they were full of energy and enthusiasm. They wanted to argue all night long. They didn’t care who my parents were or how much money I had, they didn’t care what grades I got or if I could play sports. They just wanted to TALK. It was like a singing in my blood, a buzzing in my head, I was home, home, home.

I have this collection of stuff in my head, a list, sort of: Every good piece of advice I ever got about journalism, about life, about anything. I used to keep it all on index cards but in one of the many moves I lost the box. Which was kind of funny, considering, but on one of the cards was something somebody in this book yelled at me during an argument about news coverage, when I was autowittering on about how we had a responsibility to people’s delicate snowflake souls to present something gently so as not to upset them: “Your job is to tell the truth and let people make their own decisions.” At the time, I just thought he was being a jerk; it became the mission of my life, what he said to me that day, cutting through everything else.

Your job is to tell the truth and let people make their own decisions.

That’s what this place is, in the final analysis. It’s the story of the kind of place that teaches you who you are:

“Most of the people I knew there had their lives completely changed by the Cardinal,” said Karl Meyer, who edited the paper in its postwar prosperity and went on to the editorial board of the New York Times. “One of the most important lessons I took from the Cardinal was about the dangers of timidity, that if someone tries to talk you out of publishing something, you’ve got to make your own judgments and not be swayed by outside influences. That was a lesson I learned firsthand and it served me very well.”

And as to why the rest of you should give a damn, well, it’s the story of the place that has, in large part, in this country, made the best of our journalism what it is.

Shadid’s Cardinal endorsed an approach called, then and now, “advocacy journalism.” Every staff defined advocacy differently, but most took the philosophy to mean seeking out stories uncovered by Madison’s daily press or local TV stations, eschewing local celebrity interviews for examinations of social issues, for example.

“The debates we had — the ideological debates — were healthy,” Shadid said. “We should have more of that kind of debate at ‘professional’ newspapers, have everything out in the open and be aggressive about our views. Ideology doesn’t hurt anyone.”

Shadid’s stories then were examinations of student government wrongdoing, accounts of efforts by university faculty to secure funding for scientific research, a group of students living overseas who got “lost in Colombia,” he recalled.

More than the stories themselves, his fellow editors taught Shadid what kind of journalist he wanted to be, and when he left the Cardinal, it was as a product of his environment.

“What I’ve taken away from the Cardinal is a critical eye, a skepticism, a certain distrust of people in power and what they will do to maintain that power,” he said. “I took away the idea that I should do stories other people aren’t going to do, stories that aren’t dictated by authority. The Cardinal taught me that journalism had — and has — a social responsibility.”

We talk a lot on this blog about what good journalism is, what good writng is, how we get our media out of the hole of laziness and stupidity and venality and complacency. We talk a lot on this blog about the good stuff, reporting well done and true, that is bearing witness instead of blathering, that is passion instead of passivity.

This book’s about the good stuff, about how it’s done, about why it works and what others need to do to emulate that.

Those who seek answers to these crises in media are quick to look everywhere but at the beginning. Good journalism begins with good journalists, and good journalists begin with good training. Journalism needs people who will stand up for the integrity of what they do from their first day at their first job because they know how hard it is to do it, and how important that it be done. It needs people who spent their earliest professional years not submitting to but fighting off suffocating economics, daily competition, and deadline anxiety. It needs people who were studying practicalities the pressroom, as well as hypotheticals in the classroom.

Journalism needs reporters and editors and photographers and artists and copy editors and salespeople and publishers who do not see themselves as part of the established order, who do not feel beholden to reputations, who are not cowed by power because as kids of nineteen and twenty they stood up to the powerful. It needs people who know that before being favored and being famous comes being fair, and being honest.

Journalism needs the Daily Cardinal right now, and the precious few other student papers like it. Journalism needs an example of a newspaper that takes its meager profits and puts them back into the newsroom, that teaches that words like truth and idealism are only ridiculous when you mock them from the sidewalk instead of living them in the street.

In the coming weeks, I’m going to be posting a couple of excerpts up, stories that will give you an idea of why this is so important, and how it fits into a lot of the conversations we’ve been having here since this blog began.

On a personal note, I’ve been keeping this one under wraps for a long time. I’ve been researching off and on for a decade. I quit my full-time job in March 2005 to write this book, and I think I was afraid if I let anyone see it, if I told everybody it was coming, it wouldn’t happen. It felt that fragile. I love this story as much as I’ve ever loved anything, and I’ve never doubted it was a great story, I only doubted I could do it justice.

There was nothing about this book that wasn’t a fight, from the idea to the interviewing to the writing to the publication. Whenever I try to describe the whole brutal process, I just find myself at a loss. And it doesn’t matter anyway, because in the end, it’s not the difficulty of the telling that makes this a good story. It’s the story that makes it a good one.

What kept me going after I kid you not 67 rejection notices is that the story itself is that good. It’s such a great story. I’m so glad I can finally share it.


12 thoughts on “Tell It and Think It and Speak It and Breathe It

  1. Congratulations A!!!!!
    This is such a great day for you. I am so proud of you. And this is just a wonderful post.

  2. First, We all need to buy this book.
    Then we need to read it and talk about it and promote it so that when they talk about journalism and blogging on TV and radio they call Athenae instead of some lame journalism professor. She is now an official EXPERT because she has a BOOK about journalism and its roots. She is a blogger. She has also put out a book about one of the people who cherry picked the intelligence that lead us to war.
    Why wouldn’t she be the expert to call? Maybe she should be on all those blogger ethics panels Atrios keeps talking about…
    Our media infrastructure knows what to do with books. I’ve heard that nobody reads them, but they still are the only way the MSM notices people who aren’t on TV or rich.
    Athenae did the work. She kept at it and as I said before, she inspires us and lifts us up every day.
    In a world where Glenn Fraking Beck makes 10 million a year the least we can do is elevate Athenae to THE source for telling the stories of good journalism.
    Then maybe people can see what has gone wrong and how to get back to basics on one of the most important functions in our democracy. We need good journalists now more than ever.
    Personally I’m proud to be part of the First Draft community and I’m especially proud to know the writer of It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the The Daily Cardinal. (PRE ORDER YOUR’S NOW!)

  3. I’ll be ordering a copy for me and my journalist nephew. Congratulations, A! I’m so glad you had the courage to do this–the book, the blog, all of it. The world is a better place for you putting yourself out there like this.
    I just thought of somebody else I should order a copy for: Deborah Howell. How ’bout it, folks? What say we start an “Adopt a Media Lapdog” campaign and send a copy to all our favorites so they have something to read while they eat their cocktail weenies?

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