When I was a twenty-something kid in Madison, Thursdays were a big day. My coworkers and I would take turns running down to the state Capitol's coffee shop, not to get another cup of the heartburn-inducing brew, but to see if that week's new Isthmus was in yet.
When the paper arrived, we'd pass around copies and devour it, usually going to "Ursula Understands" first. Most of my friends were politics junkies too, and we all read the Madison and Milwaukee dailies (yeah, plural -- each city had two) as well, but Isthmus seemed like the paper that talked more directly to us, speaking in our language. We always felt like we were getting more than news -- we were getting the inside scoop.
Occasionally, I'd send a letter to the editor and be thrilled if it made in, not so much to just see my name in print but to see that it had made the cut at Isthmus. I'm pretty sure that my twenty-something self would be appalled to learn that the paper now gives my fifty-something self this blog and an op-ed every month. He’s not that good, my younger self would protest.
Newspapers aren't just businesses; they're community institutions. And just like good pols, a good paper resonates and speaks to and for a community. Isthmus has done that for decades, and so I get a little nervous when I see the business side come out so clearly as it did last week. The paper's been sold.
That's probably a good thing. The new owners will bring fresh energy and new ideas and maybe more capital to the table. My only hope is that they don't look too closely at the quality of the bloggers and monthly columnists.
I'm not going to shower praise all over Vince O'Hern. He has done very well for himself, thank you very much. But along the way to making some money, Vince more than anyone else is responsible for creating and keeping alive something that is not insignificant: a social, political and cultural touchstone for our city. If a guy's gotta make a living, that's not a bad day's work.
Let's hope that the new owners give the paper the shot in the arm that comes with new blood while maintaining the important alternative voice that the Madison community has come to rely on. No other publication does it nearly as well.