40th anniversary of the Badger Herald

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Posted by madcityradio.com on September 12, 2009 at 17:26:25:

Moe: Tip of the hat to the Badger Herald
By DOUG MOE | Posted: Saturday, September 12, 2009 5:00 pm

The 40th anniversary of the Badger Herald student newspaper was Thursday, and the paper celebrated with a special front page that included two articles on the Herald's founding and growth.

Next month, on homecoming weekend on the UW-Madison campus, there's a series of reunion events for former and current staffers.

The headline on one of Thursday's front-page stories caught my eye: "How a rag became the paper of record."

A rag?

Well, we weren't The New York Times, that's for sure. But we wrote some good stories, and we certainly had some good times. We didn't take ourselves too seriously and we loved poking fun at the much more established Daily Cardinal. We came up with a front-page slogan that drove them crazy: "Once a week, but twice as good."

I came to the Badger Herald in 1978, a decade after the paper's 1969 founding as an alternative to the then-highly liberal Cardinal.

The Herald's right-wing editorials were notorious, but they'd also had the wit in those early years to put one of the great all-time Madison characters, Edward Ben Elson, on the masthead as "evangelical editor."

I was talked onto the staff by George Stanley, today the managing editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, then the sports editor of the Herald. At the time I was writing sports for the Cardinal, where the editor, Annie Laurie Gaylor, was not exactly a rabid sports fan.

Drinking beer one day with Stanley in the Grotto, a State Street bar directly below the Herald, he suggested I make the switch.

I first told him I didn't want to work with the maniacs writing all those outrageous editorials. Stanley assured me the news and sports pages were not influenced by the editorial page. He said he thought I could write a general interest column if I wanted to.

"I can meet Mephisto!" I said.

If I'm remembering correctly, my first column for the Herald (I'm afraid the column was titled Moetells) was an interview with the star of "Lenny's Inferno," a weekly horror movie that ran Fridays at midnight on Ch. 15 and was presided over by a Dracula-like figure named Mephisto, actually Ch. 15 art director Dick Flanigan.

I did get to interview Flanigan, and now, all these years later, the chance to meet just about anybody you care to is one of the great draws of journalism.

In the course of duty at the Herald, I also got to meet the editorial writers.

One in particular lives in my memory. Robert E.A.P. Ritholz - the middle initials were legitimate, and stood for Edgar Allan Poe - was pursuing a doctorate in history. I remember him in tweed sport coats, balding on top, with what hair he had worn long to the shoulders. He wrote an editorial column on the death of Mao Tse-tung that was headlined: "Top commie bites dust."

But in person, Ritholz was funny and hard not to like. I ran into him 20 years later in Chicago's Billy Goat Tavern. Bob was a good friend of a Chicago "ghost hunter" named Richard Crowe and the Goat was on Crowe's tour of "haunted Chicago."

I last talked to Ritholz five years ago, when he was pictured in The New York Times pouring a beer on the sidewalk outside Chicago's Biograph Theater, where John Dillinger was gunned down. It was the 70th anniversary of Dillinger's death. Crowe presided over a ceremony commemorating it and Ritholz poured a beer for the late outlaw.

I have no doubt that the Herald has become more serious and a better paper since we were there. It went daily in 1986. I hope the students are still having fun putting it out.

In one of the front-page articles in Thursday's anniversary edition, the current editor began a sentence about the paper's history with this: "While some may still take offense to Doug Moe's bizarre tirade on Madison bikers ..."

I can't say I remember that column, but it's good to know I was capable of a bizarre tirade in those days. I should probably thank the Grotto for inspiration.

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